"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

UN Body Seeks Mideast WMD-Free-Zone Talks

December 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre


The UN General Assembly’s disarmament committee called on Secretary-General António Guterres to convene a conference next year for further talks on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

The discussions in the General Assembly First Committee also revealed deepening tensions between the United States and Russia on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, chemical weapons, and outer space security, as well as strains between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states over how to make progress toward nuclear disarmament.

On the WMD-free-zone conference proposal, 103 countries supported the resolution introduced by the Arab League and 71 abstained. Only the United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted against.

If adopted by the General Assembly in December as anticipated, a first conference will last one week during 2019, and subsequent conferences will be held each year until an accord on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is adopted. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit would prepare background documents for the conferences.

Canada, the United Kingdom (which abstained), and the United States criticized the resolution, stating in separate explanations that they believe it is not inclusive. The United States opposed it because of its “focus on isolating Israel,” Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), tweeted on Oct. 18. Israel, which is widely thought to possess nuclear weapons, does not support the conference proposal. Wood stated that the United States would only support actions with consensus support among all states in the Middle East.

The United States and Israel also rejected a different resolution, introduced by Egypt, calling for progress on creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. This resolution has been introduced at the United Nations every year since the 1980s and is usually adopted by consensus without being taken to a vote. In explaining its decision to vote against Egypt’s resolution this year, Israel blamed the Arab League for breaking consensus on the subject by proposing the new resolution calling for a conference in 2019.

The UN meeting also was marred by stark divisions between the United States and Russia on several critical issues. Russia tried to introduce an emergency resolution urging states to “preserve and strengthen” the INF Treaty after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 1987 accord. The committee rejected Russia’s resolution because it was introduced after the deadline, although there was a heated exchange between the United States and Russia on it.

The United States was also at odds with Russia on weapons in outer space, voting against every resolution introduced on the subject, including one on preventing a space arms race and a ban on putting weapons in space first. The United States and Israel were the only countries to vote against the resolution on preventing a space arms race, and the United States was one of three to reject the resolution on “further practical measures” to prevent a space arms race.

A dozen countries opposed Russia’s resolution, which recommended negotiating a multilateral instrument banning putting weapons in space first, while 40 abstained. In a U.S.-UK-French explanation of the vote on Nov. 5, Cynthia Plath, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the CD, called the resolution hypocritical and not verifiable and said it did not address threats from anti-satellite weapons.

Instead, the three countries support non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures, according to the statement. Yet, this year, the United States opposed a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in space, which it had co-sponsored with China and Russia every year since 2012.

This year’s resolution differed from last year’s by inviting states to report on steps taken to implement the resolution and to convene a panel discussion on challenges to space security and sustainability. Plath said on Nov. 6 that the resolution makes an “unacceptable linkage” between proposals for “voluntary, pragmatic” transparency and confidence-building measures and the “commencement of futile negotiations” on “fundamentally flawed arms control proposals,” despite no mention of negotiations commencement in the resolution text.

On another matter, Russia voted against the annual resolution on the Chemical Weapons Convention, which condemns the use of chemical weapons and stresses the importance of implementing the convention, as it has since 2016. Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, condemned Russia for blocking accountability for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in an Oct. 10 statement.

Member states were split on two controversial resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Japan’s annually introduced resolution on disarmament, which last year was supported by the United States but criticized by a number of other states as undermining disarmament commitments, faced criticism from both camps this year. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Austria explained to the conference on Nov. 1 that it abstained on the resolution because it restates agreed disarmament language, misrepresents the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

For its part, the United States rejected language reinserted into the resolution about the importance of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI, which commits states-parties to pursue disarmament, and agreements reached at NPT review conferences in 1995, 2000, and 2010, a source told Kyodo News on Nov. 10. The United States was successful in eliminating an initial clause in the resolution that would have called on North Korea to sign and ratify the CTBT, according to the same source.

The first UN resolution to welcome the adoption of the prohibiton treaty and encourage all states to sign and ratify it passed the First Committee with 122 states voting in favor, 41 voting against, and 16 abstaining. All nuclear-armed states except for North Korea, which abstained, voted against the resolution.


UN Disarmament Resolutions

During its 2018 session, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted several resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Below are some of those resolutions.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons
Reaffirms that the use of nuclear weapons would be a “crime against humanity” and requests that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) commence negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 120-50 with 15 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.44)

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Urges states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as soon as possible and to maintain the current nuclear testing moratoriums until the entry into force of the treaty. Adopted by a vote of 181-1 with four abstentions. North Korea voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.26)

Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices
Urges the CD to agree on and implement a program of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Adopted by a vote of 180-1 with five abstentions. Pakistan voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.58)

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons
Stresses the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use and emphasizes that the only way to prevent their use is total elimination. Calls on states to prevent the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and to exert all efforts to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 143-15 with 23 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.23)

Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World
Declares that “all states share an ethical responsibility” to “take the effective measures, including legally binding measures, necessary to eliminate and prohibit all nuclear weapons, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Declares that “greater attention must be given to the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on women and the importance of their participation in discussions, decisions and actions on nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 130-34 with 18 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.62)

Reducing Nuclear Dangers
Calls for a “review of nuclear doctrines and, in this context, immediate and urgent steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, including through de-alerting and de-targeting nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 127-49 with 10 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.43)

The United States votes against and spars with Russia on other matters at UN session.

Russian Chemical Weapons Use Draws More Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin as they gather with other leaders for a November 11 ceremony in Paris marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I.   (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)The United States confirmed on Nov. 6 that it will impose a second, more severe round of sanctions on Russia for its use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. To avoid the additional sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, Russia had to provide reliable assurances that it is no longer using chemical weapons, will not do so in the future, and will allow international inspectors to verify its assurances. Russia continues to deny that it used or possesses chemical weapons. Robert Palladino, a State Department spokesman, said on Nov. 7 that the U.S. administration was considering implementation plans. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement pressed for action, stating that “hesitation only encourages more Russian aggression.”

U.S. options for additional sanctions include banning multilateral development bank assistance or U.S. bank loans except loans for food or agricultural commodities, imposing additional export prohibitions or import restrictions, suspending diplomatic relations, and terminating air carrier landing rights. After an Aug. 6 U.S. determination that Russia had used a nerve agent in an attack against a former spy in the UK, the first round of sanctions took effect Aug. 27 and included a ban on U.S. exports to Russia related to national security, such as gas turbine engines, electronics, integrated circuits, and testing and calibration equipment that were previously allowed on a case-by-case basis. (See ACT, September 2018).—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Russian Chemical Weapons Use Draws More Sanctions

Human Rights Body Condemns WMD

The interpretative body of a major human rights treaty called the use or threat of use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons, “incompatible with the respect for the right to life,” adding that it may be a “crime under international law,” in new commentary adopted Oct. 30 on the treaty’s implementation. The Human Rights Committee is composed of international experts who monitor implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has 172 states-parties, including all nuclear-armed countries except China, which is a signatory.

The commentary, coupled with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, reflects a “new, more human-centered trend towards nuclear disarmament,” Daniel Rietiker, an adjunct professor of international law and human rights at the University of Lausanne, wrote in a blog post Nov. 7. But several nuclear-armed states argued when the commentary was being considered that weapons of mass destruction were beyond the scope of the ICCPR. The new commentary also asserts that states-parties must stop WMD proliferation, destroy existing stockpiles, respect obligations to pursue good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament, and provide “reparations” to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing.

The last comment from the Human Rights Committee on nuclear weapons was in 1984, which stated that nuclear weapons “are among the greatest threats to the right of life which confront mankind today” and that their use “should be considered” a crime against humanity.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Human Rights Body Condemns WMD

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Nuclear Ban Treaty Reaches 19 States-Parties

November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons gained seven additional signatories and four additional states-parties at a second signing ceremony Sept. 26, the United Nations-declared International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Myanmar’s Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tim signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on behalf of his country, also known as Burma, on Sept. 26 at the United Nations. (Photo: ICAN / Darren Ornitz Photography)Two countries signed the treaty shortly after the ceremony, bringing the total number of states-parties to 19 and signatories to 69 as of Nov. 1. The treaty enters into force after ratification by 50 states.

“I love seeing states sign and ratify #nuclearban treaty,” Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), wrote on Twitter. “Each one of these states is chipping away at the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and moving us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.”

The treaty, adopted in July 2017 and opened for signature two months later, includes prohibitions on the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of nuclear weapons for all states-parties. It also stipulates that states-parties must provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and environmental remediation for land affected by nuclear weapons.

“When the treaty was opened for signature one year ago, the secretary-general noted that it was the ‘product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,’” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, stated at the recent ceremony. “The number of signatures and ratifications to date shows that these concerns remain paramount in many states’ minds.”

Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Brunei, Guinea-Bissau, Myanmar, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste signed the treaty at the signing ceremony; Gambia, Samoa, San Marino, and Vanuatu ratified it. Twenty-one of the 69 treaty signatories are from the African continent, 13 from Asia, 13 from North America, 10 from South America, seven from Oceania, and five from Europe, including the Holy See. The Oceanic region has the most states-parties (five), while Africa has the fewest, with only one.

The pace of signatures and ratifications is similar to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which had 71 signatories and 14 states-parties a year after it opened for signature.

Close to 50 non-nuclear-armed countries expressed support for the treaty during the initial week of the UN General Assembly First Committee meeting. However, nuclear-armed countries and many of their allies scorn the treaty, as reflected in several of their statements and a strong joint denunciation by China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States. Proponents of the treaty “do not offer solutions to these security challenges, or even acknowledge that they play a role in states’ thinking about deterrence and disarmament…. Instead, they seem to believe that we can skip to the final step of this process—simply banning nuclear weapons—and trust that the details will work themselves out,” Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee on Oct. 10.

Several states have recently published reports on their investigations into national consequences for treaty accession. Sweden, which launched such an inquiry a year ago, has said that it would publish the results by Oct. 31. The Swiss government decided in August against signing, although there is continuing action in the legislature favoring signature. (See ACT, May 2018.) Norway, a NATO member covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, released its review in early October. Kjølv Egeland, a fellow at the Norwegian Academy of International Law, tweeted on Oct. 9 that the report concludes that Norway signing the treaty is “off the table for now,” given that it would contradict nuclear deterrence policy.

Civil society groups, such as the Norwegian Academy of International Law, have issued reports considering the implications of joining the treaty. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Sweden, an ICAN partner organization, published a compilation of essays urging Swedish ratification and examining the treaty’s relationship to Swedish security arrangements and trade. On Oct. 29, Norwegian People’s Aid, a member of ICAN’s steering committee, released the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, assessing the compliance of 197 states with the treaty.

But nuclear-armed states and their allies remain steadfastly opposed.

Russia Charged With OPCW Hacking Attempt

November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The European Union established a new mechanism for chemical weapons sanctions, days after several countries blamed Russian intelligence operatives for attempting to hack computers at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Four Russian intelligence agents were caught in April as they allegedly tried to hack into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons using equipment in a car parked adjacent to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. (Photo: OPCW)The sanctions framework approved by EU foreign ministers last month reflects an effort by the Europeans to bolster international norms against chemical weapons use at a time when the legal prohibition established by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been violated by Russia and Syria, both states-parties to the accord.

Russian efforts to compromise independent investigations into its own chemical weapons use and that of Syria will be a key issue when CWC states-parties gather for the treaty’s fourth review conference in November. Russia has denounced an agreement to strengthen the OPCW’s ability to investigate and attribute blame for chemical weapons use, and Western governments say Moscow has sought to interfere with the work of the OPCW.

The Dutch Defense Ministry announced on Oct. 4 that, in April, it had disrupted an attempted Russian cyberattack on the chemical weapons watchdog agency. Dutch authorities stated that four agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency were spotted in a car filled with electronic equipment “installed for the purpose of infiltrating the OPCW’s network” parked adjacent to OPCW headquarters in The Hague. The Russian agents were detained and then expelled.

“Our exposure of this Russian operation is intended as an unambiguous message that the Russian Federation must refrain from such actions,” said Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld on Oct. 10.

At the time of the attempted breach, the OPCW was investigating a chemical weapons attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, United Kingdom, which the United Kingdom and other countries have accused Moscow of carrying out with use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok. (See ACT, April 2018.)

The UK seconded Dutch allegations of Russian efforts to hack into the OPCW and published additional accusations of attempted GRU cyberattacks to disrupt investigations of chemical weapons use.

The UK National Security Centre in an Oct. 4 statement identified a number of pseudonyms that GRU personnel used in cyberattacks around the world. Additional attempted Russian attacks included a so-called spear-phishing attack in March aimed at compromising UK Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and a similar May effort in which GRU agents impersonated Swiss federal authorities to target OPCW officials. Spear phishing refers to using deceptive emails that seem to be from a known or trusted sender in order to gain access to a computer or network.

“The GRU’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Oct. 4. “This pattern of behavior demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.”

Russia rejected the allegations, continuing a pattern of denial of chemical weapons use or possession.

“We are watching with regret how the U.S. authorities continue to poison the atmosphere of Russian-American relations by bringing ever new groundless accusations against Russia, which certain other NATO countries would hurry to repeat at the command from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote on Oct. 4. “Russia is used to these U.S. methods but the purposeful fomenting of tensions in relations between nuclear powers and internationally is a dangerous path.”

The Europeans and the United States hastened to punish Russia for its alleged cybercrimes and chemical weapons use. On Oct. 4, a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania charged seven GRU agents with planning cyberattacks against various entities including the OPCW and the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory, an OPCW-affiliated laboratory, which was analyzing Novichok agent, as well as U.S. and international anti-doping agencies and sports federations.

On Oct. 15, a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg adopted a new regime of restrictive measures against those who use or develop chemical weapons or those who assist to do so, regardless of nationality. The sanctions include a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze, according to an Oct. 15 press release.

No individuals have been sanctioned under the new mechanism, although the two GRU individuals identified by the UK as responsible for the UK poisonings in Salisbury and nearby Amesbury will likely be considered.

Members of the OPCW Executive Council, who met shortly after the announcement about the attempted Russian hack into the chemical weapons watchdog, and all CWC states-parties, who are scheduled to meet at the Nov. 21–30 CWC review conference, face pressure to find measures to counter the erosion of the norm against chemical weapons use and attempted Russian meddling into international investigations.

At the Oct. 9–12 OPCW Executive Council meeting, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States proposed adding Novichok to the list of chemicals specifically prohibited by name by the CWC.

Several states also expressed support for OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias to create a new OPCW attribution mechanism approved at the June special session of CWC states-parties, which would investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

Russia, in a statement by the foreign ministry, denounced the decision to provide the OPCW with the attribution authority, calling it the result of “political manipulations, direct bribery of a number of delegations, and blatant blackmail.” The June 28 statement said the action was outside the limited authority established by the CWC and “jeopardizes the integrity of the CWC.”

The previous attribution mechanism for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, was forced to shut down after Russia vetoed its continued operation at the UN Security Council. (See ACT, December 2017.) Subsequent attempts at the UN Security Council to restart attribution investigations were also blocked by Russia.

“The upcoming review conference provides an opportunity to reflect on the last five years of the work of this organization and set direction for the next five years,” Peter Wilson, UK ambassador to the Netherlands, said at the OPCW Executive Council meeting. “We must face up to the reality that our hard-won gains against the scourge of chemical weapons are being challenged like never before. We must stand together against chemical weapons use, and we must ensure that the OPCW and our new director-general have the tools they need to face the next five years.”


Russia has denounced international agreement to empower watchdog to attribute blame for chemical weapons use.

UN Tracks Progress on Disarmament Agenda

UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched an implementation plan in early October for his disarmament agenda, which was first released in May. (See ACT, June 2018.) Guterres’ sweeping vision raised the question of whether he would be able to accomplish his many goals. The implementation plan tracks all 111 action steps outlined in the disarmament agenda. Five steps have been completed, including supporting the high-level fissile material cutoff treaty preparatory committee, which released its final report in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) Twenty-one actions have not been started yet, 28 are in development, 41 are in progress, and 16 are ongoing. “We are grateful for the expressions of support we have received and commitments some governments have made to champion specific actions,” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, told the UN General Assembly First Committee on Oct. 8. “These champions have committed to financially support, or politically support in a leadership capacity, activities in connection with the agenda.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Tracks Progress on Disarmament Agenda

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UK Names Two Russians in Novichok Poisonings

October 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The United Kingdom charged two Russian nationals on Sept. 5 with the attempted murder in March of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia using the nerve agent Novichok, bolstering its case that the Russian government instigated the crime.

In a police photo released September 5, Novichok poisoning suspects are shown on CCTV in Salisbury, UK, March 4. The two men, Russian nationals using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.  (Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images)According to the UK investigation, the two men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The accusation resulted from a months-long UK police investigation, including the analysis of more than 10,000 hours of CCTV videos.

The UK previously accused the Russian government, but had not identified individual suspects. (See ACT, April 2018.)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in Parliament, said on Sept. 5 that the latest finding proves even more definitively Russian government culpability. She vowed to press for the creation of a new EU chemical weapons sanctions regime and to empower the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “attribute chemical weapons to other states beyond Syria.” The OPCW was granted the mandate to investigate the responsible party for chemical attacks in Syria in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

European nations and the United States have taken steps in response to the attacks, which included expelling hundreds of Russian diplomats and enacting new sanctions. In November, the United States is expected to adopt still harsher sanctions against Russia for its chemical weapons use unless the government admits its guilt, forswears future use, and allows international inspectors to verify its assurances. (See ACT, September 2018.)

At a UN Security Council meeting on Sept. 9 called by the UK, several nations supported the UK’s conclusions and called for strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1993 accord that bans chemical weapons. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the allegations a “crazy cocktail of unfounded lies,” continuing a pattern of denial of Russian and Syrian chemical weapons use.

In an interview on Russia’s government-funded news channel RT, the two suspects claimed they had visited Salisbury twice as tourists to see the city’s famous cathedral. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the men were civilians. “We, of course, checked who these people are. There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you,” Putin stated at an economic forum on Sept. 12.

UK newspapers have reported that a UK-based investigative website, Bellingcat, independently has obtained documentation showing that the names appear to be cover identities linked to the Russian security services and that plane tickets to the UK were bought at the last minute, not as part of a long-planned vacation, as the men claimed.

Laboratory tests by the OPCW confirmed on Sept. 4 the UK’s finding that Novichok was also the chemical agent that killed Dawn Sturgess and injured Charlie Rowley on June 30 in Amesbury. Sturgess and Rowley appear to have been poisoned accidentally by picking up a discarded perfume bottle that held the remains of the nerve agent used on the Skripals.

The two Russians are also “prime suspects” for the Amesbury incident given the link between the two events, May said in her Parliament remarks. The UK has issued Interpol red notices and domestic and European arrest warrants, although the men cannot be arrested and brought to trial as long as they remain in Russia.

The Skripal assassination attempt was “not a rogue operation,” says UK Prime Minister May.


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