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Iraq to chair U.N. disarmament conference

From Richard Roth
CNN New York Bureau

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Iraq will chair the United Nations' most important disarmament negotiating forum during the panel's May session.

At the rules-minded United Nations, it's not a country's status with international weapons inspectors, but the letters in its name that determine which member state chairs the Conference on Disarmament.

"The irony is overwhelming," a U.S. diplomat said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Monday delivered their 60-day report on the status of weapons inspections in Iraq. It was a less-than-glowing summary, with both men saying Baghdad is not cooperating with inspectors and is not being forthcoming on disclosing information about its weapons programs.

Iraq will take its turn as the head of the conference, a U.N. spokesman said, because of a "purely automatic rotation by alphabetical order."

Therefore, joining Iraq as co-chair for the session in Geneva, Switzerland, will be Iran.

The conference chair helps organize the work of the conference and assists in setting the agenda.

The May 12-June 27 conference will be the 25th anniversary session since the conference was established in 1979 after a special U.N. General Assembly session.

The conference is made up of 66 countries who have been divided in recent years on several issues, including the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

The conference and its predecessors have negotiated such major multilateral arms limitation and disarmament agreements as:

• Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

• Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques

• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction

• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction

• Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

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