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US Urges UN to Prevent Iraq from Chairing Disarmament Conference - 2003-02-13

A top U.S. arms control official Thursday urged the United Nations not to allow Iraq to take over leadership of the U.N.'s main forum for disarmament negotiations.

Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told the forum that it is unacceptable for Iraq, a country, which, he said, fails to observe Security Council resolutions, to be allowed to take its turn as the group's president next month. "To permit a country that has been under sanctions for 12 years due to its failure to disarm to assume the presidency of an institution called the Conference on Disarmament would make a mockery of this institution," he said. "We believe that the other countries represented here share our view that it would be extremely debilitating for this conference to allow such a country to assume the presidency. And so, we will seek to work with them to prevent this from happening."

Chairmanship of the 66 nation Conference on Disarmament rotates monthly in alphabetical order. India presently chairs the group, and Iraq is scheduled to take over the leadership on March 17.

Mr. Rademaker says the United States is considering all its options, including walking out of the March meeting. France has said that a group of Western countries is uniting to put pressure on Iraq's delegation to step aside.

But such unity among Western countries was not in evidence last month, when Libya was elected to preside over the U.N.'s top human rights review body. Mr. Rademaker says Libya's role, coupled with a possible Iraqi chairmanship of the disarmament body, will only weaken the United Nations. "That, combined with an Iraqi presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, will bring great discredit to these U.N.-affiliated institutions operating here in Geneva," said Stephen Rademaker.

The Iraqi delegation in Geneva says it will fight U.S. efforts to prevent it from assuming the chairmanship of the disarmament conference. "It is our presidency," a member of the delegation said, "we will practice it."