U.S. walks out of disarmament conference to protest Syrian presidency

The United States delegation briefly walked out of a plenum debate at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday to protest the Syrian presidency of the body tasked with halting the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

“Just prior to the commencement of today’s CD plenary, I walked out in protest of Syria’s assumption of the CD presidency,” US Ambassador Robert Wood said in a tweet that included a photograph of his back as he walked out of the room. “I did return later, however, to harshly condemn the regime in Damascus for its repeated use of chemical weapons against its own people.”

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“This is no normal presidency,” he told reports on Tuesday, one day after Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala took over the monthlong rotating presidency of the United Nations body.

During the convention’s plenum meeting, Wood said: “The US is outraged at Syria’s actions, its blatant disregard for international obligations and its temerity in assuming the presidency of a body committed to advancing disarmament and nonproliferation.”

“Given its demonstrated contempt for the work of this body through the repeated violations of treaties negotiated here, Syria has neither the credibility nor the moral authority to assume the presidency of the CD, the very body that negotiated the chemical-weapons convention,” he added.

The European Union, Canada and many other Western countries echoed Wood’s objections.

Aala dismissed their words as “sensational propaganda” by countries with a “phobia” toward his that wanted to “undermine the work of this forum.”

Their statements are “characterized by double standards and moral selectivity” that these countries have already exhibited in “dealing with national and regional security matters, Aala said.

Some of these countries “are trying to give lessons on compliance with conventions and treaties on weapons of mass destruction at a time when these states refuse to abide by these legal instruments,” he said.

Aala pledged to impartially and professionally fulfill his role as conference president during the coming month.

“I reiterate my commitment to uphold this presidency with full transparency and professionalism,” he said. “I will act in a way that will address the security concerns of all the member states.”

Aala called on countries to “refrain from harmful practice” that would only “poison the atmosphere in the forum.”

“The Damascus regime has neither the credibility nor moral authority to preside over the CD,” Wood said. “The international community must not be silent.”

He and other international leaders continued their attacks on Tuesday, including a public statement during a plenary session of the conference.

“The representative of the Syrian regime called on the US and others not to ‘poison the atmosphere’ of the CD with condemnations of Damascus,” Aala said. “I told CD members I’m more concerned about Syria having ‘poisoned’ its own people with chemical weapons.”

Countries including Iran and Pakistan supported his statements.

British Ambassador Matthew Rowland stood with the US.

“Your words are empty,” he told Aala.

Wood retorted: “The lies coming from the regime are fooling absolutely no one. Its regime is concerned about the poisoning of the atmosphere in the CD. I am more concerned about the poisoning of the Syrian people.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley issued a statement on the matter from New York.

"The United States would have attempted to block Syria’s presidency, but the rules of the Conference on Disarmament prevented us from doing so. During this period, the United States will limit participation in informal sessions convened by the presidency and will continue to highlight the hypocrisy of Syria holding this position in spite of its continued use of chemical weapons and disregard for its other disarmament obligations," she said.