US ‘outraged’ as Syria assumes presidency of UN disarmament conference

US ‘outraged’ as Syria assumes presidency of UN disarmament conference

By Luke Vargas   
A graphic circulated by the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva featuring U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood.
A graphic circulated by the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva featuring U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood's remarks condemning Syria's presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

The top representative of the U.S. to the U.N. Conference of Disarmament called Syria's chairmanship a 'travesty' given the Assad government's use of chemical weapons.

UNITED NATIONS — The United States walked out of U.N. disarmament talks on Tuesday as the Syrian government took over the role of conference president for the next month.

“It is shameful that a regime that continues to use chemical weapons to murder its own people has the audacity to accept the presidency of the very organization that established the Chemical Weapons Convention,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The Assad regime does not have the moral authority to chair an organization that helped establish the global norms for ending the use of these heinous weapons.”

Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, called out Syria’s “blatant disregard for its international obligations” in brief remarks before the conference, before exiting the room.

Syria is one of 65 countries that currently hold membership on the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Disarmament, alongside Iran and North Korea. All of the world’s nuclear weapons states the U.S., U.K., China, India, Pakistan, France and Russia and Israel  are also members of the conference, which counts among its mission the “cessation of the nuclear arms race” and other forms of multilateral arms control.

Each member nation is entitled to chair conference sessions in a slow-moving process determined by alphabetical order. Syria’s presidency falls between a previous session hosted by Switzerland and a forthcoming session being organized by Tunisia.

While Haley noted the U.S. was formally unable to block Syria from taking over the post, she nevertheless said Syria “should immediately relinquish the presidency.” She also promised that the U.S. would limit its participation and “continue to highlight the hypocrisy of Syria holding this position in spite of its continued use of chemical weapons.”

Representatives from Australia, Canada, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria (speaking on behalf of the European Union) joined the U.S. in voicing disapproval with Syria’s chairmanship, while France took the further step of saying its ambassadors would sit out any subsequent meetings Syria chairs.

Addressing members of the conference on Tuesday, Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala scolded the U.S. for its complaints and spent the majority of his remarks on nuclear  not chemical weapons – disarmament and begrudging nuclear states for failing to continue talks on nuclear arms control.

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