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Syria assumes presidency of disarmament body, sparking protests

US ambassador says Syria's presence a 'travesty' and stages a walkout as Damascus's representative takes the floor
Syrian ambassador Hussam Edin Aala, left, with Vladimir Gratchev, representative of Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva in 2014 (screengrab)

Syria on Monday took over the rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), according to a decades-old practice among the body's 65 members of following the alphabetical order of country names in English.

The CD is recognised as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.

The US ambassador to the UN in Geneva said on Tuesday it was "a travesty" that Syria would head the CD, leaving briefly when the Syrian representative took the floor.

'Syria's presence here is a travesty. This regime has committed countless crimes against its own people'

- Robert Wood, US ambassador to the UN

"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," Robert Wood told AFP just before the session began.

Children affected by a suspected April chemical attack in Douma, Syria (AFP)
"They don't have the moral authority or the credibility to preside over this body, and we are going to make very clear during their four-week presidency that we find it abhorrent," he added.

During the first open session of Syria's presidency on Tuesday, the United States led a number of diplomats in protest.

Wood briefly left the room when Syria's ambassador, Hussam Edin Aala, opened the session, before returning to voice Washington's displeasure from the floor.

"Today marks a sad and shameful day in the history of this body," he told the assembly.

"Let me be clear: we cannot permit 'business as usual' in the CD while Syria presides over this body," he said.

"During the next four weeks, we will be present in this hall to ensure that Syria is not able to advance initiatives that run counter to the interests of the United States, but we will fundamentally alter the nature of our presence‎ in the plenaries," he said.

Following his statement, Wood moved in protest to a seat usually reserved for assistants.

Wood's words were echoed by a number of ambassadors from other countries, including Britain and Australia.

The French representative also said Syria "does not have the moral authority to lead this body". 

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