Japan denounces use of chemical weapons, says crucial to first establish facts in spy poisoning

"More than anything, the fact-finding process is important," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (right) told a news conference with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov beside him.
"More than anything, the fact-finding process is important," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (right) told a news conference with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov beside him.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - The use of chemical weapons is "unacceptable", Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told visiting Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday (March 21), stressing the need to respect the probe into an attack that has been widely blamed on Moscow.

"More than anything, the fact-finding process is important," Mr Kono told a news conference with Mr Lavrov beside him.

Russia has been widely blamed for a nerve agent attack, on England soil, on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, in the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War II.

Mr Lavrov said on Wednesday: "We fully agree with Mr Kono, and I told him our unsuccessful attempts to get any explanations of the facts. First, where are Mr Skripal and his daughter now? Second, if the investigation is going to take several months, why has the British government already assigned a verdict?"

He added: "If the British government continues to take anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity."

The attack has poisoned Russia's tenuous ties with Western countries. Japan, however, has thus far refrained from pointing fingers.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Monday: "What is most important is to uncover the truth."

He spoke to British counterpart Theresa May by phone one day later. According to Japan's Foreign Ministry, he described the attack as an "outrage" and said the perpetrators ought to be severely punished. But he added his expectations of an early clarification of facts.

Britain has said that only Russia would have the capability and motive to instigate such an attack, and that the nerve agent Novichok was developed by the former Soviet Union. It has expelled 23 Russian diplomats and their families, and cut off high-level contacts.

"What we are seeing now is the scurrying about by the United Kingdom across the world, cajoling partners to show solidarity and yet without showing any facts," Mr Lavrov said in Tokyo. "Out of misguided solidarity they are forced to make some statements that could be interpreted as support for London."