NEW YORK – While the United States leads the charge in making sure Iraq owns up to its promises of complete disarmament, Saddam Hussein's country will head an international disarmament conference and will steer the course of the U.N. disarmament agenda this spring.
The irony has more than a few U.S. lawmakers up in arms.
"With the consideration of Iraq to head the Conference on Disarmament, the U.N. now becomes worse than any off, off, off-Broadway show. It becomes the theater of the absurd," said Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who joined Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., Wednesday in a news conference denouncing Iraq's taking the rotating chair.
"This is ridiculous. It's like the fox watching over the hen house," Fossella said. "Iraq has zero credibility to disarm any nation when it stands in violation of U.N. resolutions because it continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. This decision will leave a permanent stain on the conference, undermine its credibility and threaten its mission to disarm nations that possess nuclear weapons."
In May, Iraq will take the helm of the U.N. Committee on Disarmament and will hold that position for one month. The co-chair will be Iran. The presidency rotates in alphabetical order.
The latest conference on disarmament — to be held in Geneva, Switzerland during Iraq's presidency — will host 66 countries, and is being billed by the United Nations as the "world's sole forum for [nuclear] disarmament."
Iraq's presidency, set to begin May 27, could follow a war in Iraq sparked by Saddam's refusal to disarm. President Bush and U.S. allies are pressuring Iraq to give up all of its weapons of mass destruction and the White House maintains every day it gets more information proving Saddam possesses banned weapons and is linked to terrorists groups like Al Qaeda.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that the U.S. is looking at its options, and called it ridiculous that Iraq could be heading a commission on disarmament.
"Iraq has, for more than 12 years, defied numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions to manning this disarmament and remains under Article 7 sanctions. Under these conditions, the United States believes it's unacceptable for Iraq to assume the presidency of the international community's main multilateral disarmament negotiating forum," Boucher said.
However, Boucher said the United States may have no options in allowing the conference to be headed by Iraq. The leadership rotates monthly in an alphabetical order, and there is no way to remove Iraq from the alphabet or the lineup.
Hayworth said that when a public official is under indictment or investigation, he or she steps aside. That same thing should happen at the United Nations.
"A modicum of common sense and international diplomacy should not be mutually exclusive," Hayworth said.
The Conference on Disarmament, established in 1979, deals with practically all multilateral arms control and disarmament problems, according to their Web site.
The conference's focus is currently on the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; prevention of nuclear war; arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states don't use or threaten the use of nuclear weapons; and prohibition of new types of weapons of mass destruction and systems for using such weapons, including radiological weapons.
Previous conferences have resulted in major arms limitation and disarmament agreements, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and two conventions to prohibit the production, development, and stockpiling of biological and chemical weapons.
Iraq's impending presidency is just the latest controversy surrounding U.N. panels.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission human rights watchdog elected Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji last week as its president for this year, despite concern from the United States about the country's poor record on civil liberties and its alleged role in sponsoring terrorism.
The United States had forced the unprecedented vote in the 53-nation panel after Libya was nominated by African countries, who hold the rotating chair this year. The president had been chosen by consensus in previous years. The 33-3-17 election outcome was seen as an embarrassment for the United States.
"How can Libya have the moral authority to expand human rights when it has a long and sordid history of human rights abuses and state-sponsored acts of terrorism?" Fossella asked last week, again blasting the United Nations for allowing it.
A Libyan government agent was convicted in 2001 for his role in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which left 270 people dead. Libyan government officials were also found by German officials to have orchestrated the 1986 bombing of a dance club in West Berlin, which wounded more than 200 people and killed two U.S. servicemen.
Fox News' Teri Schultz contributed to this report.