Erin Pelton, spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said in a statement that a country "in flagrant violation" of U.N. Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency obligations stemming from its suspect nuclear program should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in U.N. bodies.
The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, is the world's most important disarmament negotiating forum. Though members have been divided in recent years, the conference and its predecessors have negotiated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Pelton said it is "unfortunate and highly inappropriate" for Iran to hold the rotating presidency of the conference from May 27 until June 23 even if the post "is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities."
The Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The IAEA inspects Tehran's known nuclear facilities and is trying to probe suspicions that Iran has secretly worked on developing nuclear weapons after more than five years of stagnation.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use. It denies any secret work on nuclear weapons, saying the allegations are based on falsified intelligence from Israel and the West.
Pelton said that having Iran as president of the Conference of Disarmament while it refuses to comply with Security Council resolutions and the IAEA board of governors "runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself."
"As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran," she said.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization that monitors the work of the United Nations, announced it will hold protest events outside the hall where the Conference on Disarmament meets featuring Iranian dissidents.
"Iran is an international outlaw state that illegally supplies rockets to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, aiding and abetting mass murder and terrorism," he said. "To make this rogue regime head of world arms control is simply an outrage."
"We urge world leaders to declare that allowing Iran to chair a U.N. disarmament body is simply unacceptable, given the fundamentalist regime's illicit activities in precisely the opposite direction," Neuer said in a statement.
He said the United States, the European Union and other nations should call on Iran to give the presidency to a country that will advance the disarmament agenda in the United Nations.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky, asked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's views on Iran's upcoming presidency, said member states decided on a monthly rotation and it's up to them to make any changes.
"The secretary-general simply wants to see movement on the Conference on Disarmament," he said. "He has been quite critical ... on the lack of progress."
Among the issues before the conference is a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty which would ban production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.