Japanese minister slams use of chemical weapons

TOKYO • The use of chemical weapons is "unacceptable", Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told visiting Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov yesterday, 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 in England 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 yesterday: "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 poisoned Russia's ties with Western countries. But Japan has refrained from pointing fingers. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Monday: "What is most important is to uncover the truth."

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

Britain said only Russia would have the capability and motive to instigate such an attack, and the nerve agent Novichok was developed by the former Soviet Union. It expelled 23 Russian diplomats, 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."

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Japanese minister slams use of chemical weapons'. Print Edition | Subscribe