NEW YORK – Iran will chair a United Nations conference on disarmament in Geneva this month, raising eyebrows from Western powers skeptical of Iran’s own nuclear ambitions.

The UN conference addresses not only nuclear proliferation but policies concerning the race to weaponize space, the production of radiological weapons and the stockpiling or use of other weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the United States said it would withdraw ambassadorial representation at the conference in protest so long as Iran retained its chair. Calling Iran's chairmanship "highly inappropriate," the statement from the US mission to the UN noted that the Islamic Republic was under UN Chapter VII sanctions for weapons proliferation and human-rights abuses.

"While the presidency of the CD is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities, allowing Iran--a country that is in flagrant violation of its obligations under multiple UN Security Council Resolutions and to the IAEA Board of Governors--to hold such a position runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself," the statement read.

“Any member state that is the subject of UN Security Council sanctions for proliferation – and found guilty of massive human rights violations – should be ineligible to hold a leadership position in a UN body,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, which first noticed the chairmanship.

“We urge world leaders to declare that allowing Iran to chair a UN disarmament body is simply unacceptable, given the fundamentalist regime’s illicit activities in precisely the opposite direction,” said Neuer.

Iran will chair the conference barely a month after Geneva held a separate preparatory conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, where Iran and North Korea were the top two concerns of participating states.

Iran remains one of 189 signatories of that treaty, though the DPRK does not, since withdrawing in 2003.

At the preparatory meeting in April, Angela Kane, head of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, told member states that a cohesive international effort would be required to address Iran.

“The whole raison d’être of this review process is to focus on implementation of commitments relating to the treaty’s three pillars – nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” Ms. Kane said.

“What is most needed now in NPT arenas is to revive a sense of forward progress, however slow, however difficult it may be,” she added.

The office of Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon provided no comment on Iran’s position as chair, noting that such decisions are left to member states.

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