* Acronym marks opening of disarmament talks at UN
* The Geneva organization hopes to end years of deadlock
* Britain warns of “death of multilateralism”
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Jan. 19 (Reuters) – Talks aimed at breaking the years-long deadlock on disarmament at the United Nations began in acrimony on Monday, with two countries barring their rivals from taking part in widely criticized maneuvers that have raised concerns about the future of the forum.
Iran has barred Saudi Arabia and the UAE from joining as observers, criticizing the former’s military record, while Turkey has blocked Cyprus in a trend that marks a significant departure from normal protocol of the UN and could set a precedent for other bodies that operate on a consensus basis.
The Iranian delegate said Saudi Arabia had used the forum as a platform for a “campaign of distraction and disinformation” and called Riyadh “the region’s biggest military offender”.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a close ally, intervened in the Yemen war in 2015 to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi movement, while Turkey and Cyprus have long disagreed over the state Separatist Turkish Cypriot in the north of the island.
Saudi Arabia’s mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cyprus expressed “deep regret” at Turkey’s decision.
“This is a sign that the Conference on Disarmament is at a crossroads and if it is to remain relevant and useful, it must do some soul-searching,” said Marc Finaud, former diplomat and security expert at the Center for Security Policy from Geneva.
Another diplomat called it a “new low” for the body.
The lockdowns have drawn criticism from other members, including Britain, the United States, the European Union and India.
“If we want to start choosing, I think it will be the beginning of the end of multilateralism,” Aidan Little, British ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, told the virtual meeting. He urged Iran and Turkey to reverse their positions.
The two-month talks that began on Monday are part of the only global multilateral disarmament forum.
Diplomats’ expectations for new deals in the 65-member forum are very low, with deals often stalled by arms producers in a forum that makes decisions by consensus.
Its last major deal was the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
However, the current Belgian president of the conference said Monday on his Twitter thread that he hoped to establish a work program “after too many years of blockage”.
It is not uncommon to prevent other UN members from observing UN forums, although in the past these relate to decades-old sovereignty conflicts.