Iran to Oversee U.N. Arms Treaty Conference; ‘Like Choosing Bernie Madoff to Police Fraud’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 9, 2012 | 4:51am EDT

An Iranian envoy addresses a U.N. meeting. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)

( – Iran has been chosen as a member of the “bureau” overseeing a month-long United Nations conference in New York aimed at finalizing a controversial global “arms trade treaty.”

The move, which came as the conference got underway last week but received virtually no attention, is the latest example of Iran taking up leadership positions at the United Nations despite its defiance of Security Council resolutions relating to its nuclear program.

Furthermore, according to an expert panel monitoring U.N. sanctions on Iran, Tehran continues to flout a Security Council ban on exporting its weaponry, with Syria the main recipient.

“This is like choosing Bernie Madoff to police fraud on the stock market,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a non-governmental monitoring group based in Geneva, which drew attention to Iran’s elevation to the conference bureau.

UN Watch is urging U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the move:

“He should remind the conference that the Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its prohibited nuclear program, and that Iran continues to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments to the murderous Assad regime,” Neuer said.

One of the key issues under discussion during the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is the norms that should be adhered to when countries decide on selling arms – among them the requirement that a sale should not contribute to war crimes or human rights violations.

The composition of the conference bureau was mentioned in passing in a U.N. document outlining the proceedings, but the countries making up the body were not identified. According to the conference rules of procedure, the bureau’s function is to “assist the President in the general conduct of the business of the Conference and, subject to the decisions of the Conference, shall ensure the coordination of its work.”

In an archived webcast of the session, not translated into English, conference president Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina is heard naming the bureau members, with Iran included among three members from the Asia group.

(The rest of the bureau are South Korea, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Mexico, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Australia, Switzerland and Netherlands.)

Iran’s election went unremarked until Iranian media trumpeted the development at the weekend, with Tehran Times reporting that Iran “is assisting the president of the Arms Trade Treaty Conference in the general conduct of the business of the conference” while the Iranian Students’ News Agency said that Iran “was elected as the deputy of Arms Trade Treaty conference.”

Iran Daily and the official IRNA news agency went further, both claiming that “some 193 participating countries unanimously voted in favor of Iran.” In fact, according to the conference website bureau members are chosen by their respective geographic groups, not voted on by the plenary – although member states could have objected to Iran’s appointment, and did not.

An expert panel monitoring U.N. sanctions against Iran that were first imposed in 2006 has found a number of violations in recent months, with the Assad regime the intended recipient.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments,” the panel said in a report last month, adding that “the Syrian Arab Republic continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers.”

Among the shipments, the report cited the seizure by Turkish officials last March of crates containing 60 assault rifles, 14 machine guns, 560 mortar shells and ammunition, on a flight originating from Iran and bound for Syria; and the seizure of a truck on the Turkey-Syria border in February laden with Iranian-origin explosives, also bound for Syria.

Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Ted R. Bromund, who is monitoring the ATT conference, remarked last week on the role of countries like Iran at the U.N.

“To an American, the remarkable thing about the entire meeting is quite simple,” he wrote. “It’s not just that Iran, Cuba, Syria, and North Korea are treated at the U.N. as the equals of the U.S., Canada, or Finland; it’s that they’re allowed to be here at all and that their words are not laughed out of the conference by all present.”

Other leadership or supervisory positions held by Iran at the U.N. in recent years include:

2010 – chairman of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the U.N.’s “central policy-making body in drug- related issues.”

2009-10 – vice-chairman of the U.N. General Assembly’s Committee on Information, a body that has the aim of promoting “the free circulation and wider and better-balanced dissemination of information.”

2009-10 – vice-chairman of the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which deals with legal affairs.

2009 – chairman of the general conference of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

2009 – president of the executive board of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).

2009 – president of the executive board of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

2008-11 – member of the advisory committee for the U.N. Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law.

2008-10 – member of the executive board of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

2007-8 – vice-chairman of the U.N. Disarmament Commission, a body dealing with nuclear and conventional arms reduction, and non-proliferation.

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