Congressmen urge UN to nix Iran from heading nuke disarmament panel

Letter signed by 72 lawmakers questions ability of Tehran to lead Conference on Disarmament, in light of own nuclear program and terror financing

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers are demanding that the UN leadership take a stand against Iran’s month-long chairmanship of the organization’s Conference on Disarmament, which began Monday.

An open letter signed by 72 congressmen and sent on Friday calls on the United Nations to remove Iran from the Conference’s rotating presidency.

“It’s outrageous that a country that refuses to abide by any international proliferation agreements — as it continues its own illicit pursuit for nuclear weapons — is chairing a conference on disarmament,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who is among the signatories of the letter.

Iran will chair the Conference on Disarmament for four weeks, from Monday to June 23, as part of the regular rotation among Conference members. The US and Canada have announced that their ambassadors to the Conference would boycott any meeting chaired by Iran.

The letter argues that “Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, let alone its grotesque human rights record and role as a leading state sponsor of terrorism, should disqualify it from presiding over the [Conference on Disarmament].”

“Relentless diplomatic efforts, including the recent P5+1 talks, have produced little if any tangible breakthroughs,” the letter notes. “By allowing Iran to chair this Conference, the United Nations is legitimizing a tyrannical regime committed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction while delegitimizing the United Nations as a force to contain nuclear weapons. Indeed, a conference seeking nuclear transparency and disarmament will be led by a country operating a dangerous and covert nuclear program that threatens global nuclear instability.”

The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, is the world’s most important disarmament negotiating forum. Though members have been divided in recent years, the conference and its predecessors have negotiated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The list of signatories to the letter includes the top leadership of the relevant House foreign policy bodies, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Deutch is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

Earlier this month, Iran’s UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi defended the country’s right to chair the conference. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a founding member of the United Nations. Its election to the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, as the most important disarmament negotiating body of the UN, is its right in accordance with the established practice and rules of procedure of this organ.”

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, asked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s views on Iran’s upcoming presidency, said member states decided on a monthly rotation and it’s up to them to make any changes.

“The secretary-general simply wants to see movement on the Conference on Disarmament,” he said. “He has been quite critical … on the lack of progress.”

Among the issues before the conference is a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty which would ban production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

“In what parallel universe could Iran — a world leader in weapons proliferation and terror financing — be taken seriously leading the charge for nuclear disarmament?” asked Peter Roskam, a senior Republican House member and cochair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, who coauthored the letter together with Deutch, Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Roskam called Iran’s chairmanship “an insult to those committed to global nonproliferation efforts.”

Peters charged that it “undermines the credibility of the United Nations and its effectiveness to resolve dangerous and critical issues.”

The Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The IAEA inspects Tehran’s known nuclear facilities and is trying to probe suspicions that Iran has secretly worked on developing nuclear weapons after more than five years of stagnation.

Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use. It denies any secret work on nuclear weapons, saying the allegations are based on falsified intelligence from Israel and the West.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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