- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

NEW YORK Iraq is in line to take over as chairman of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in May, prompting one U.S. official yesterday to say: "The irony is overwhelming."
Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, issued the comment as officials realized Iraq was in line for the rotating post. India now holds it and will be followed by Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland and Israel as countries take the job in alphabetical order.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that the choice of conference leaders is "a purely automatic rotation by alphabetical order" with five or six conference presidents each year, each serving a term of about four weeks.
"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," said Mr. Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, when asked if Iraq holding the job did not seem odd.
The 66-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, is the world's top disarmament forum. It meets annually for 24 weeks in three sessions beginning in January.
The U.N. General Assembly established the conference in 1979 with 40 members to consolidate the work of several Geneva-based negotiating bodies that had been set up in the 1960s.
The conference, which adopts its decisions by consensus, has negotiated such major multilateral arms-limitation and disarmament agreements as the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and the nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It also steered talks on the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
Elsewhere at the United Nations, Libya was recently elected leader of the U.N. Human Rights commission based in Geneva.
The United States sought, unsuccessfully, to block Libya's election because of its record of torture, imprisonment without trial, terrorist attacks and other human rights abuses.

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