- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

NEW YORK Iraq will take over the leadership of the world's top disarmament forum on March 17 earlier than expected, the United Nations announced yesterday.
With President Bush warning that Iraq has "weeks, not months" to disarm peacefully, the U.S. timetable could put Iraq at the helm of the Conference on Disarmament at a time of likely military action against the country.
The chairmanship of the conference rotates in alphabetical order, bringing Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland and Israel to the leadership in the coming months. India is the current chairman, and Iraq had been expected to take the post in May.
But U.N. deputy spokeswoman Hua Jiang announced yesterday that "Iran has given up the chairmanship of the Conference on Disarmament, which means that Iraq will take over the chairmanship on March 17."
"No reason was given in Iran's letter to the Conference on Disarmament for giving up its presidency," she said, noting that this has been done before by other countries including North Korea, South Africa, Spain and Ethiopia.
The prospect of Iraq chairing the conference sometime in the coming months prompted Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, to say Wednesday: "The irony is overwhelming."
"Last week it was Libya defending our human rights, and now it's Iraq leading disarmament. No one can keep a straight face," he added yesterday.
Libya was elected this year's president of the 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission on Jan. 23 on a wave of African solidarity. The United States objected, saying the country's "horrible" record disqualified it for the top human rights post, but only two other nations voted against Libya.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that the choice of leaders for the Conference on Disarmament is "a purely automatic rotation by alphabetical order," with five or six conference presidents serving a term of about four weeks each year.
Asked whether there was anything hypocritical about Iraq leading the conference, Mr. Eckhard said: "I think you could expect that from time to time a letter would come up that might raise questions in certain quarters, but it has no political significance, I would say."
The United States and Britain have threatened to attack Iraq if it does not dispose of banned weapons programs, which Baghdad denies it possesses.
The 66-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, was established in 1979 after a decision by the U.N. General Assembly, taking over from other Geneva-based negotiating bodies.
It has negotiated major arms-control and disarmament agreements including the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It also steered talks on the Biological Weapons Convention.
Member nations meet annually for 24 weeks in three sessions beginning in January.

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