Middle East
3:52 pm
Fri October 11, 2013

Peace Prize Winners Want To Rid The World Of Chemical Weapons

Originally published on Fri October 11, 2013 5:38 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize goes to the international chemical weapons watchdogs now on the ground in Syria. The group has been working for a decade and a half to get rid of some of the world's deadliest weapons. Its latest mission is also its most dangerous, documenting and disposing of the Syrian government's stockpiles in an active war zone.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the Nobel Prize is meant to support the group in that difficult work ahead.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons describes his organization as a small one, with an onerous but noble task: to act as the guardian of the global ban on chemical weapons. Ahmet Uzumcu congratulated his staff, praising them for the complex and hazardous work they do, including an unprecedented mission in Syria.

AHMET UZUMCU: Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were recently victims of the horror of chemical weapons. Today, we are engaged in work which is meant to ensure that this atrocity is not repeated.

KELEMEN: The OPCW experts are working on a tight time frame in Syria. And in the midst of a civil war, Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat, says he hopes the recognition by the Nobel Committee will reinforce the organization's resolve to rid Syria and the world of chemical weapons.

UZUMCU: I think it will make a difference. It will, clearly, add boost to morale of our staff. We've been working in this organization for years now, some of them in a very challenging environments, be it in Libya, Iraq, now, in Syria.

KELEMEN: The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, says the issue of disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel's will. So it made sense, he says, to give this year's prize to the OPCW, which oversees the first treaty meant to ban an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.

THORBJORN JAGLAND: That would be a great event in history if we achieve that. And that's why we are highlighting this and giving a message to all those who has not ratified the convention and to those who have not honored their obligations under the convention.

KELEMEN: He points out that the U.S. and Russia missed their deadline last year to get rid of their chemical weapons stockpiles. The U.S. is about 90 percent there. Russia has destroyed about 70 percent of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Israel and Myanmar have not yet ratified the chemical weapons convention. North Korea is among several countries that haven't signed. Syria only agreed to join this year, after facing international outrage over the August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus.

JAGLAND: So this is not only about Syria. Of course, Syria has highlighted the terrible role of these weapons, once again, unfortunately.

KELEMEN: The $1.2 million prize money is welcome news for the OPCW, which is now trying to raise funds to carry out its work in Syria. The United Nations, which is also helping to fund and staff this mission, welcomed the Nobel Peace Prize decision too. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says, quote: "Together, we must ensure that the fog of war will never again be composed of poison gas."

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.