The United States has accused Iran of failing to declare chemical weapon-related activities in violation of commitments to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Speaking to an annual meeting of the intergovernmental organization in The Hague on Thursday, U.S. envoy Kenneth Ward said Washington is concerned that Iran is developing “central nervous system-acting chemicals” for offensive military purposes. He did not cite the source of the allegation.
Ward also gave three examples of what he said were Iranian declaration failures under OPCW rules. Iran is a signatory to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention administered by OPCW.
Ward said Iran failed to declare a capability to fill weapons with chemicals, its transfer of chemical-filled shells to Libya in the 1980s, and its marketing of CR gas at defense expos as a riot control agent. A 2011 Washington Post report quoted U.S. officials as saying chemical munitions uncovered that year by rebels in Libya’s civil war appeared to have originated in Iran.
U.S. media had quoted Trump administration officials last week as saying Washington would use the OPCW conference, which began Wednesday, to raise the issue of Iran’s alleged chemical weapons program.
Since May, Washington has been increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop a range of perceived malign activities, including a suspected nuclear weapons program and its development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful.
Iran rejects assertions
On the first day of the OPCW meeting, Iranian delegate Gholamhossein Dehghani said Tehran always has had a “clear position” against weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Dehghani also criticized what he called “hypocritical behavior” by some OPCW members, whom he said were enabling terrorist groups to use chemical weapons against civilians. He did not elaborate.
In an interview for the Wednesday edition of VOA Persian’s News at Nine show Iran analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said Washington is worried about Iranian possession of chemical weapons because Tehran is reported to have used such munitions before.
Taleblu cited a 1988 U.S. interagency intelligence memo, declassified in 2004, on the impact of chemical weapons use in the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war. Iraq killed thousands of people in chemical attacks on Iranian troops and civilians during the conflict.
“We believe that, as Iran’s chemical weapons stockpile increases and Iraqi chemical attacks continue, Tehran will selectively increase its use of chemicals in retaliation, and possibly as a pre-emptive weapon,” the U.S. intelligence memo said. It listed three instances of Iranian chemical attacks on Iraqi targets: a phosgene attack on the Iraqi city of Basra in April 1987, mustard attacks on Iraqi forces in the Iranian border towns of Soomar and Mehran in October 1987, and a cyanogen chloride attack on the Iraqi town of Halabja in March 1988.
Iran the victim
Iran has long portrayed itself as the victim of chemical attacks by Iraq’s then-dictator Saddam Hussein in the eight-year-long war. In a report published Sunday, Iran’s state-run Press TV said Tehran “never retaliated against Iraq’s chemical weapons attacks on troops and civilians.”
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based research group advocating against weapons of mass destruction, has said some reports suggest Iran may have employed chemical weapons on a small scale in the 1980s war with Iraq.
“However, an intensive review of the open literature (including U.N. reports based on field investigations from that era) provides insufficient evidence to support this conclusion,” NTI said in an online report about Iran updated in July 2017.
Taleblu said NTI likely discounted U.S. intelligence reporting because it cannot be verified through open sources.
“The fact that this archival U.S. intelligence material exists and is not engaged with or dismissed is part of a larger problem, because it leads analysts to take Iran’s war account at face value,” Taleblu said. “While I will be the first to say that Iran’s chemical weapons experience in the war was horrific, the fact that Iran learned the lessons of deterrence the hard way is what made it so active in (developing) weapons of mass destruction and missiles after the war.”
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Katherine Ahn of VOA Persian contributed.