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Iraq to chair Conference on Disarmament

Later this year, the U.N.-established Conference on Disarmament will seat a new president: Iraq.

The nation under scrutiny by the world body for weapons of mass destruction will have control – for nearly four weeks – of the agenda of a committee established in 1979 as “the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.”

The conference was formed as a result of the United Nations General Assembly’s first Special Session on Disarmament, held in 1978.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq, at first, was unaware that Iraq’s turn was coming up. After further inquiry, however, he found that Baghdad will serve as chair, beginning at the end of May, according to a rotating schedule of the member nations done in alphabetical order.

Haq said the role of conference presidency is a matter of “organizing the work and setting the agenda.”

Does Iraq’s defiance of U.N. disarmament resolutions damage the group’s credibility?

“All the members at some point sit briefly as the chair of its work,” Haq replied. “And that includes countries that are party to disarmament treaties and those that aren’t.”

The chair holds the position for half of each session. There are three sessions scheduled for this year. India and Indonesia each have a turn at the presidency during the current session, which runs from Jan. 21 through March 20.

Iran and Iraq are slated for the top spot during the May 12-June 27 session, and Ireland and Israel are scheduled for the final July 20-Sept. 10 meetings.

According to the conference’s rules of procedure, the president, in addition to the “normal functions of a presiding officer,” shall “in full consultation with the conference and under its authority, represent it in its relations with states, with the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations and with other international organizations.”

The rules say that when the conference is not in session, the functions of the president are carried out by the representative of the member state that presided over the previous meeting. That means Iraq will carry on its role from the end of May until July 20.

‘Setbacks’ to disarmament

Haq insisted that Iraq’s upcoming position with the conference is not an issue because the group has not managed to establish an agenda.

“I think the main public relations concern is, What does it do substantively?” Haq said. “Since it’s not exactly a body that has been meeting to deal with issues substantively for several years, the main worry is not about a procedural issue such as who is the chair; it’s about what it can do.”

U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan, however, recently gave the conference a pep talk on the 25th anniversary of its establishment.

“The U.N. general secretary has tried to draw attention to the idea that if it does its work in the way it was intended, this committee should be able to deal with all the major issues of disarmament,” Haq said.

In a message delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, director-general of the U.N. office in Geneva, Annan said on Jan. 21:

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, and the 25th session of the Conference on Disarmament. This is a significant milestone, but it is not an excuse for complacency. International peace and security continue to face profound challenges in the form of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, rising military expenditures, the prospect of an arms race in outer space, and the continual development of new weapons systems. I hope, therefore, that 2003 will mark a turning point in the history of this Conference, a time to reinvigorate the sense of purpose in arms limitation and disarmament efforts that were shaped 25 years ago.

Annan did not mention Iraq in a section referring to “setbacks” to disarmament, but referred to North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

One week ago, the U.S. and Canada objected to Libya’s election to the chairmanship of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. A call by WND seeking comment on Iraq from the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation was not returned.

‘Life goes on’

The Conference on Disarmament is distinct from the United Nations Disarmament Commission, or UNDC.

The UNDC’s deputy secretary, Timur Alasaniya, explained to WND that the Conference on Disarmament works closely with the U.N. and reports to the General Assembly, but is not strictly a U.N. body.

He described it as “a unique, multilateral negotiating disarmament body within which international, binding legal agreements are negotiated.”

The UNDC, on the other hand, is mainly a deliberative body, said Alasaniya, who comes from the Republic of Georgia.

“We don’t negotiate issues, but discuss them, mainly in three-year cycles, then come up with specific proposals and guidelines,” he said. “Then we suggest to the Conference on Disarmament to pick up a certain issue and start negotiating on it, or refer it to another body, such as a bilateral or trilateral framework.”

Alasaniya said Iraq’s chairmanship of the conference is a matter of procedure.

“Whatever Iraq is doing, or its state, life goes on,” he said. “International legal instruments are still working. We cannot suspend them because of something that is happening in accordance with the rules. Unless they will be altered by the members themselves, they will remain the same. The rules say chairmanship goes by rotation in alphabetical order.”