The response came after several days of criticism over the latest leadership post to be handed to a government that habitually defies international norms. Iran was selected on July 3 as one of 14 vice-presidents of a month-long U.N. conference in New York, aimed at hammering out a global conventional arms trade treaty.
Breaking its silence on the matter, the administration on Thursday used a speech to the conference to criticize the move, and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. followed up with a separate statement.
“Iran’s longstanding record of weapons proliferation, illicit nuclear activities, and gross human rights abuses properly disqualifies it from serving in any such position in the United Nations,” U.S. envoy Donald Mahley told the gathering.
“At a time when Iran is violating U.N. Security Council obligations, including by helping rearm Hezbollah in Lebanon and providing weapons to the Assad regime to use to slaughter its own people, this selection makes a mockery of this conference’s underlying purposes and undermines the credibility of the United Nations,” he added.
Mahley, who serves as special negotiator for nonproliferation, said Iran was also misrepresenting its role at the meeting, “implying it secured its election on the basis of their record on international peace and security. The United States rejects the legitimacy of Iran’s claimed capacity to play a credible role in this conference.”
As reported earlier, Iranian media played up the appointment, with Tehran Times stating 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 the conference.
Shortly after Mahley delivered his speech, U.S. Mission spokesman Mark Kornblau issued a statement on the issue, calling Iran’s role “outrageous.”
“Iran was selected to run on a closed slate of candidates put forward by the Asia group, of which the United States is not a member,” he said. (Three slots were earmarked for Asia, and Asia put forward three countries – Iran, South Korea and Japan.)
“The U.S. has argued repeatedly and forcefully that countries like Iran that are under Security Council sanctions for weapons proliferation or massive human-rights abuses should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in U.N. bodies,” Kornblau continued. “It is incumbent upon regional groups to enforce this common-sense principle. We regret that on this occasion, the Asia group did not do so.”
Kornblau also said that the U.S. had in the past “successfully fought to deny Iran decision-making roles in various U.N. bodies,” citing as examples the effort in the spring of 2010 to thwart a Iranian bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) and later that year to deny Iran a place on the executive board of the new agency promoting the equality of women, U.N. Women.
“We strongly believe that the U.N. must reform the outdated procedures and elections practices that allow pariah states to participate in completely inappropriate ways in parts of the U.N. system,” he added.
Iran’s departure from the HRC election in 2010 came at a price: The Asia group, under pressure to reverse the nomination, secured Iran’s agreement to pull out, in exchange for support from its Asian partners for a seat on another U.N. rights body, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Just days later, Iran duly got a seat on the CSW, despite an appeal by hundreds of Iranian women’s rights activists, who told the U.N. Tehran would use its position “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.”
Neither the U.S. nor any other country objected or called for a recorded vote, so Iran was “elected” to the position “by acclamation.”
The custom at the U.N. of regional groups putting forward closed slates – submitting the same number of countries as there are seats available for that group – has long been condemned by critics who say the absence of competition makes a mockery of the “election” process. Closed slates have enabled countries like Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia to get seats on the HRC notwithstanding human rights records at home that draw widespread criticism.
In the most recent such step, the Africa group last week put forward a clean slate of five candidates for five seats on the HRC earmarked for African countries, ahead of elections later this year. One of the five is Sudan – despite the fact that President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, arising from the conflict in Darfur.
Unless an additional African country is persuaded to submit a candidacy and make the “election” an actual contest, Bashir’s regime is all but assured of a seat on the U.N.’s top human rights body.