LONDON: Britain will hold new emergency talks on Tuesday into the brazen nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent on its soil, after the US and NATO backed London in implicating Moscow in the assassination attempt.
As diplomatic tensions soar, Russia has denied accusations of its involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in southwest England on March 4.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament it was “highly likely” Moscow was behind the poisoning, giving Russia until the end of Tuesday to answer the accusations, in comments that have stoked speculation Britain could call on its allies to mount a joint response.
Both the United States and NATO issued statements in support of London, as concern mounts over the use of what May described as a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia.
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in a critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury. Emergency workers in biohazard suits have been deployed in the normally sleepy city, while some 500 people who may have come into minimal contact with the nerve agent were urged to wash clothes and belongings as a precaution.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington has “full confidence” in the British investigation, adding that it was “almost beyond comprehension” that a state would use such a dangerous substance on public streets.
“We agree that those responsible—both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it—must face appropriately serious consequences,” he told reporters.
“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”
May told British lawmakers that Moscow had previously used the group of nerve agents, known as Novichok, had a history of state-sponsored assassinations and viewed defectors such as Skripal as legitimate targets.
“The government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” she said.
The prime minister added Britain had given Moscow until the end of Tuesday to disclose details of its development of the Novichok nerve agents program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
If there was “no credible response” it will conclude it was “an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK”, she warned, and pledged to outline a “full range of measures” in response on Wednesday.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Tuesday that Britain was consulting allies in NATO about possibly invoking its Article 5 principle of common defense.