US, Canada balk as Iran chairs un committee.
Iran takes the chair only weeks after trying to block a major UN initiative that would have been the world's first treaty to deal with the $60-billion a year arms trade.
The Iranian chairmanship has drawn reactions ranging from anger to laughter. But most members probably don't care since he chairman has little authority and the position is primarily ceremonial.
But Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva based non-governmental organization, said, "This is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women's shelter."
Iran will assume the presidency of the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament May 27 and hold it four weeks, until June 23. The conference is billed by the UN as "the single multilateral disarmament-negotiating forum of the international community."
Although not officially part of the UN, the world body says, "The Conference is funded from the UN regular budget, reports to the General Assembly and receives guidance from it."
Iran takes the chair as part of an automatic rotation, but Neuer said that did not absolve the UN of responsibility. "Any member state that is the subject of UN Security Council sanctions for proliferation--and found guilty of massive human rights violations--should be ineligible to hold a leadership position in a UN body," Neuer said in a statement. "The US and Canada have asserted this principle in the past, and should do so again."
He described the position as "a fundamental conflict of interests" and "an act certain to be exploited by Iranian propaganda to legitimize the mullahs' cruel regime."
In separate announcements Monday in New York and Ottawa, the United States and Canada said they would bow out of the committee during the four weeks of Iran's chairmanship.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Rick Roth said, "In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, the regime is working directly against global disarmament goals and subverting the fundamental principle of this committee."
Erin Pelton, spokesperson for the US Mission at the UN, said Monday that a country "in flagrant violation" of UN Security Council resolutions should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in UN bodies.
Pelton said it is "unfortunate and highly inappropriate" for Iran to chair the conference even though the post "is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities."
Pelton said that allowing a country not in compliance with UN resolutions on nuclear work to chair a UN committee "runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself. As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran."
But she did not say that Washington would launch an effort to have Iran booted out of the chairmanship.
In 2011, Canada sat out a month when North Korea took a turn as committee chair. The United States did not join Canada then, saying it didn't consider North Korea's chairmanship to be a "big deal." No one in the United States explained why Iran's chairmanship now is "a big deal," but it sounded like Washington just wanted to use the opportunity to remind UN members about the Islamic Republic.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sidestepped the issue. His spokesman said chairmanships of committees are decided by the membership of the committee and not by the secretary general.