Syria has assumed the chair of the UN Conference on Disarmament for a four-week period. The Syrian government has been accused of targeting civilians with chemical weapons and violating nonproliferation treaties.
The rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) was taken over by Syria on Monday, sparking strong condemnation by the US delegation, which staged a walkout at the group's first meeting on Tuesday.
The controversy comes as the Syrian government has been accused of staging chemical weapons attacks on civilians during the ongoing civil war. The most recent one, a suspected chlorine and sarin attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, was widely condemned by the international community and prompted a series of US-led airstrikes.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said he had "no power" over the rotation system of the disarmament body.
The UN CD is a multilateral forum that holds three meetings a year in Geneva, Switzerland. The group negotiates arms control and disarmament accords and advocates for nuclear nonproliferation. The presidency of the CD is granted on an alphabetical rotating basis and has a short tenure of four weeks.
US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons (BWC) Convention Issues, Robert Wood, led the US protest in Geneva.
"We are going to walk out at some point this morning and we will be taking other actions that you will see over the course of Syria's presidency, so please stay tuned," Wood said.
Read more: Opinion: Trump, Assad and international law
Although the US has strongly objected to Syria's presidency of the disarmament body, it stopped short of a boycott.
"Syria's presence here is a travesty. This regime has committed countless crimes against its own people through the use of chemical weapons, and it is just unacceptable for them to be leading this body," Wood said.
Other countries such as the UK, Australia and France have joined the US in opposing Syria's CD presidency.
British ambassador Matthew Rowland said in a statement that his country found Syrian's CD presidency deplorable, "given the regime's consistent and flagrant disregard of international non-proliferation and disarmament norms and agreements."
jcg/rt (AFP, Reuters)