North Korea assumes leadership of UN disarmament group, outrage swiftly ensues

It comes as the pariah state was earlier this year accused of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, which are banned by the UN Security Council

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Friday, June 03, 2022, 12:05 PM IST
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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 | AFP

North Korea on Thursday skipped the diplomatic niceties in favour of a more combative tone when it took the helm of the Conference on Disarmament.

"My country is still at war with the United States," bluntly declared Pyongyang's ambassador Han Tae-Song.

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

It comes as the pariah state was earlier this year accused of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, which are banned by the UN Security Council.

However it assumed the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament as the position rotates between members.

The move sparked immediate criticism of the forum's effectiveness.

A number of non-government organisations had urged countries to walk out of the room - a common form of diplomatic 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.

The Conference on Disarmament - held three times at year at the UN headquarters in Geneva- is the world's only permanent, multilateral body negotiating arms and nuclear accords.

Its overarching aim is to end the nuclear arms race and prevent nuclear war. However it's failed to produce any deals of note since 1996.

North Korea will chair the forum for at least the next three weeks.

North Korea has a military nuclear weapons program and, as of early 2020, is estimated to have an arsenal of approximately 30 to 40 nuclear weapons and sufficient production of fissile material for six to seven nuclear weapons per year.

North Korea has also stockpiled a significant quantity of chemical and biological weapons. In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Since 2006, the country has been conducting a series of six nuclear tests at increasing levels of expertise, prompting the imposition of sanctions.

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