March 1, 2016 / 10:59 AM / a year ago

Russia calls for pact against chemical warfare by Islamic State

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2016.Maxim Shemetov

GENEVA (Reuters) - Russia said on Tuesday there was a growing threat from Islamic State militants waging chemical warfare in the Middle East and called for global negotiations on a new pact to combat what he called "a grave reality of our time".

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the appeal in a speech to the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, a now largely moribund forum which clinched a major pact banning chemical weapons in the 1990s.

"However, we still face significant gaps related, in particular, to the use of chemicals for terrorist purposes," Lavrov told the 65-member-state forum.

"This threat is getting extremely urgent in the light of newly revealed facts of repeated use of not only industrial toxic chemicals but also of full-fledged chemical warfare agents by ISIL (Islamic State) and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq," he said.

Islamic State militants are believed to be responsible for sulfur mustard gas attacks in Syria and Iraq last year, the United States said last month.

A confidential report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard in Marea, north of Aleppo, in August.

"It does not leave any doubt that chemical terrorism is emerging not as an abstract threat, but a grave reality of our time which could and should be addressed," Lavrov said.

"There is a growing danger of similar crimes being committed on the territory of Libya and Yemen," he said.

Lavrov said there were reports of militant groups gaining access to scientific and technical documentation on the production of chemical weapons, seizing chemical plants and "engaging foreign specialists to help synthesize chemical warfare agents", without giving details.

He said launching negotiations would revive the Conference on Disarmament, whose members include U.N. Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, but which has not been able to clinch any disarmament agreements since "the last decade of the 20th Century".

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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