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Arms destruction on hold in Russia

MOSCOW — A government ministry halted operations at Russia's only chemical weapons destruction facility Monday, citing concerns about its control over emissions.

The Natural Resources ministry ordered the Gorny plant, a former chemicals weapons construction site, to stop working until it reverses violations it said were found during an inspection late last month. The plant is about 450 miles southeast of Moscow.

The surprising order is a blow to Russia's slow-moving efforts to destroy its chemical weapons, a process that is being closely watched and aided by the United States and other countries with proliferation concerns.

The ITAR-Tass news agency said the Gorny plant was built with the help of 17 countries that are signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia signed in 1997. Russia initially pledged to destroy its stockpile by 2007, but it has requested a five-year extension.

Last month's inspection revealed "a series of violations of environmental legislation," Denis Kiselyov of the Resources Ministry said. An official said 110 tons of mustard gas had been destroyed at Gorny since it opened in December.

Kiselyov said the violations included the absence of the proper license for work with chemical waste, loose control over emissions of waste into the atmosphere and violations of rules for storage of liquid waste obtained after processing the mustard-gas-like yperite.

Bureaucratic requirements for factories and businesses are often Byzantine in Russia, but it was unclear how a key facility operating with government approval lack the proper license.

Sergei Kiriyenko, a former prime minister who is chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, said last month that 110 tons of mustard gas had been destroyed at Gorny since it opened in December.

Two more facilities are planned in the coming years to aid in the destruction of Russia's chemical weapons arsenal, which at nearly 44,000 tons is the largest in the world.

Last June, Russia's partners in the Group of Eight industrial nations pledged up to $20 billion over 10 years to help dispose of its weapons of mass destruction arsenals.

However, the U.S. Congress has suspended some of its promised funding amid concerns about Moscow's commitment.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said last month that the disposal of Russia's Soviet-era chemical weapons remains a priority for Moscow, but that extensive international support is needed to speed up the giant task.

Neither Kiriyenko nor officials at the Russian Munitions Agency, which is in charge of the weapons destruction effort, could be reached for comment after business hours Monday.