World chemical weapons watchdog to get new leader as it investigates Syria

AMSTERDAM, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A Spanish diplomat has been proposed to head the world's chemical weapons watchdog at a critical time for the organization's disarmament work in Syria, according to a document seen by Reuters.

A vote on the appointment of Fernando Arias, 65, is expected to be taken by the body's 41-member executive council of Thursday.

He will succeed Ahmet Uzumcu of Turkey, who has headed the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) since July 2010.

RELATED: Chemical warfare and preparations around the world.

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Chemical warfare and preparations around the world
A government official wearing a gas mask takes part in an anti-biochemical terrorism exercise at the Integrated Government Complex in Seoul June 15, 2010. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: MILITARY)
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, UTAH, USA, JUNE 4, 2016: DigitalGlobe satellite image Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Dugway Proving Ground is a US Army facility established in 1942 to test biological and chemical weapons. It is located about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
MICHAEL ARMY AIRFIELD, DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, UTAH, USA, JULY 4, 2016: DigitalGlobe satellite image of the Michael Army Airfield at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Dugway Proving Ground is a US Army facility established in 1942 to test biological and chemical weapons. It is located about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
A member of the Singapore Civil Defence Force in a bio hazard protective suit works at the site of a simulated gas attack inside a mock Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train at the Home Team Academy in Singapore, March 28, 2007. The Home Team Academy, opened by the Ministry of Home Affairs in September 2006, houses simulated facilities such as counter-terrorism training stations and is intended to be an internationally recognised centre providing professional training and education on homefront security, safety and law enforcement. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash (SINGAPORE)
Members of Britain's emergency services, wearing decontamination suits, take part in a mock chemical attack simulation at the Bank underground station in central London, September 7, 2003. The exercise, which does not involve members of the public or real chemicals and is designed to test London's ability to cope with a terror attack, began at 1148 BST (British Summer Time) on Sunday and is designed to test the response of the police, ambulance and fire services to such an incident. The scenario being acted out is that a chemical is released on a busy train travelling from Waterloo to Bank station in the heart of the City of London.
PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 21: A protester who declined to identify himself, wears a gas mask during a protest of the BIO Conference 2005, the biotechnology industries annual convention, June 21, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The BioDemocracy members demand healthcare for all, environmental justice and sustainable agriculture and bring attention to the harmful effects of bioweapons and biowarfare. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
401060 06: Israeli teenagers wear their gas masks during a civil defense exercise at a school February 14, 2002 in the central Israel town of Herzliya. The armys Home Front Command held the drill as part of its preparations in the event of an unconventional missile attack against Israel. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq launched some 30 Scud missiles against the Jewish State. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
401060 04: Fourteen-year-old Israeli Stas Batashov wears his gas masks during a civil defense exercise at a school February 14, 2002 in the central Israel town of Herzliya. The armys Home Front Command held the drill as part of its preparations in the event of an unconventional missile attack against Israel. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq launched some 30 Scud missiles against the Jewish State. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
Employees wearing protective clothing decontaminate a military vehicle at the nuclear department at the Research Institute for Protective Technologies, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection (WIS) during a demonstration in Munster October 15, 2013. The state-owned WIS is a reference laboratory for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Picture taken October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
Brazilian army soldiers wearing chemical suits participate in an anti-terror simulation exercise as part of the preparation for the upcoming 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brasilia. May 22, 2013. About 100 soldiers took part in the exercise which include preventive strikes against chemical, biological and radiological weapons conducted around Mane Garrincha National Stadium, according to an official statement. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL - Tags: SPORT SOCCER MILITARY)
Decontamination Exercise by 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment, the only cavalry regiment in the French Foreign Legion, and the 2nd Dragoon Regiment, French Army unit dedicated to combatting chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. (Photo by José Nicolas/Corbis via Getty Images)
MUNSTER, GERMANY - OCTOBER 30: A pile of old and rusty shell casings which have been detonated at the company GEKA, which specializes in the disposal of chemical weapons and armament remains as pictured on October 30, 2013 in Munster, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)
MUNSTER, GERMANY - OCTOBER 30: One of the employees of the company GEKA, specializing in the disposal of chemical weapons and armament remains are seen here preparing a chemical agent shell which has yet to be destroyed for decommissioning, whilst wearing the appropriate protective clothing on October 30, 2013 in Munster, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)
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The change of leadership comes as the OPCW and U.N. weapons inspectors investigate ongoing use of banned nerve agents, including sarin and mustard gas, in the Syrian civil war.

Syrian officials remain unable to explain how banned chemicals have been found in the country, meaning the new leader could face a showdown among members over whether Syria should be reported to the United Nations for non-compliance.

Arias will have to overcome fundamental differences between major powers Russia and the United States, which jointly drafted a deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons in 2013 after a sarin attack killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus, but have since ended cooperation at the OPCW.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the more than six-year civil war.

But despite a massive international mission to destroy its toxic arsenal, OPCW inspectors have found use of chemical weapons is systematic and ongoing.

Diplomats say Arias, Spain's ambassador to the OPCW and the Netherlands, where the organization is based, is known as a strong negotiator and mediator, making him a good match for the job.

Under Arias' direction, the OPCW adopted a contentious decision in 2016 condemning the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces and Islamic State militants.

A rare vote at the consensus-based OPCW signaled the break in cooperation between the United States and Russia, which back different sides in the war.

The United States had sought to impose sanctions on those responsible through the OPCW's executive council, but dropped the proposal in the face of fierce Russian opposition.

RELATED: A look back at the Syrian gas attack

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ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH People stand near a dead body, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Men stand near dead bodies, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds an injured baby inside a Turkish ambulance as injured Syrian people enter into Turkey from the Cilvegozu border gate in Hatay province, near the Syrian border on April 4, 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A wounded kid receives medical treatment at sahra hospital after Assad Regime forces's attack with chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Abdulghani Arian/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A woman gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish officials with chemical clothes carry a injured man on April 4, 2017 in Hatay province, near the Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Bodies lie in the parking area of a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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An alternative text drafted by Spain was supported by a majority, including Germany, France, the United States and Britain, but opposed by Russia, China, Iran and Sudan.

Arias nomination must be formally be approved by all the OPCW's member countries, represented through the Conference of States Parties, which is expected by December.

Arias, who previously served as Spain's ambassador to the United Nations, will be appointed for a four-year term through July 2022 and can seek reappointment.

He was picked over candidates from Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, South Korea, Burkina Faso and Iraq, diplomatic sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the process was confidential.

Born in Madrid, Arias also held positions in Mauritania, Bulgaria, Montenegro and was as deputy ambassador in China. (Editing by Alison Williams)

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