Outrage as North Korea takes helm of world disarmament body. Source: The Guardian

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Outrage as North Korea takes helm of world disarmament body

Countries use North’s elevation in rotating presidency to chastise Pyongyang over recent missile tests and feared preparation for fresh nuclear test

North Korea's ambassador to the UN in Geneva appears on a TV screen in Geneva while chairing the Conference on Disarmament on Thursday

North Korea’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Han Tae Song, appears on a screen in Geneva while chairing the Conference on Disarmament on Thursday. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Agence France-Presse in Geneva Fri 3 Jun 2022 00.58 BST Last modified on Fri 3 Jun 2022 16.58 BST

North Korea skipped the diplomatic niceties for a combative tone as it took the helm of the Conference on Disarmament.

“My country is still at war with the United States,” declared Pyongyang’s ambassador, Han Tae-Song.

Around 50 countries have voiced their outrage that the nuclear-armed North Korea is being tasked with chairing the world’s most foremost multilateral disarmament forum for the next three weeks.

North Korea took over the rotating presidency of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament on Thursday, according to a decades-old practice among the body’s 65 members following the alphabetical order of country names in English.

FILE - This photo distributed by the North Korean government shows what it says a test-fire of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), at an undisclosed location in North Korea on March 24, 2022. When the U.S. and South Korean leaders meet Saturday, May 21, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program, already a major focus, may receive extra attention if intelligence predictions of an imminent major weapons demonstration by the North, which is struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak, are right. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

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But despite the automatic nature of North Korea’s presidency of the conference, dozens of non-governmental organisations had urged countries to walk out of the room in protest.

There was no dramatic exit, but many nations opted to send only lower-level diplomats, while the US, the EU, Britain, Australia and South Korea, among others, took the occasion to chastise Pyongyang over its numerous ballistic missile tests and feared preparation for a fresh nuclear test, the first since 2017.

  • “We remain gravely concerned about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s reckless actions which continue to seriously undermine the very value of the Disarmament Conference,” said the Australian ambassador, Amanda Gorely, speaking on behalf of the group of countries.
  • The decision to remain in the room should not in any way be interpreted as “tacit consent” of North Korea’s violations of international law, she said.

Pyongyang’s ambassador, who opened Thursday’s meeting, held exceptionally in the UN’s distinctive human rights chamber in Geneva, merely responded: “The president takes note of your statement.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that North Korea’s role called the body’s utility into doubt.

“It certainly does call that into question when you have a regime like the DPRK in a senior leadership post, a regime that has done as much as any other government around the world to erode the non-proliferation norm,” he said.

North Korea, one of the most militarised countries in the world, has carried out a number of missile tests since the beginning of the year.

  • The US and South Korea say it fired three missiles, including possibly its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, hours after Joe Biden closed a visit to the region late last month.
<img src="https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/33cf6bf03ce8e7c90f4075b560847e43c9073c75/87_132_2131_1279/master/2131.jpg?width=460&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=79773ab0cda8ed5859695b54d0599886" alt="COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea

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The US and others have warned that Pyongyang is preparing its first nuclear test in five years.

In Thursday’s joint statement, Gorely urged North Korea to “observe a moratorium on nuclear test explosions”.

  • After repeatedly “taking note” as president of the criticism, Han, the North Korean ambassador, took the floor in his national capacity to insist on North Korea’s right to defend itself against US “threats”.
  • Pyongyang, he pointed out, remained officially at war with the US since the 1953 ceasefire that ended combat and split the Korean peninsula.
  • “No country has the right to criticise or interfere in the national defence policy” of North Korea, he said.

The Conference on Disarmament, which is not a UN body but meets at its headquarters in Geneva, is a multilateral disarmament forum that holds three sessions a year.

It negotiates arms control and disarmament accords and focuses on the cessation of the nuclear arms race.

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