UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A U.N. spokesman Friday night said, without explanation, that Iraq has relinquished its four-week turn as president of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, making way for Ireland to take up the slack.
"The Iraqi Mission to the United Nations informed the Secretary-General today that the Iraqi government had sent a letter to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva saying that they would not be assuming the rotating presidency of the Conference, which they were scheduled to assume on March 17," said the spokesman, Fred Eckhard.
Iraq had been scheduled to take over from Iran, which also suddenly bowed out as head of the world's sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations, represented by 66 states.
Ireland's term heading the Conference begins, coincidentally, on St. Patrick's Day.
The conference opened this year's session at the U.N.'s Palais des Nations in Geneva Jan. 21 under the presidency of Ambassador Rakesh Sood, of India.
Following in the presidential rotation were to be, in English alphabetical order, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Ireland, and Israel.
But Iran dropped out last month, moving up Iraq a notch. Now, Baghdad has bowed out, putting Ireland in the seat on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, Ireland's national day.
At least the Conference finally agreed on an agenda.
According to its rules of procedure, the Conference "shall adopt its agenda for the year at the beginning of the session. In doing so, the Conference shall take into account the recommendations made to it by the U.N. General Assembly, the proposals by its members, and decisions of the conference."
Last year the Conference was not able to reach agreement on a program of work -- the fourth consecutive year during which it was unable to do so -- and so was unable to start work on substantive issues.
While there was agreement on most of the elements of a program, the main differences remained on the matter of prevention of an arms race in outer space.