(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration will not follow Canada’s lead and boycott a session of the U.N.-linked Conference on Disarmament to protest North Korea’s appointment to the body’s rotating presidency.
“We have chosen not to make a big deal out of this because it’s a relatively low-level, inconsequential event,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
When the Conference on Disarmament (CD) next meets in Geneva, in August, North Korea will hold the chair, which rotates alphabetically among the body’s 65 member states six times a year.
Created in 1978 as the U.N.’s multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, the CD’s agenda embraces weapons of mass destruction, reduction of armed forces and budgets, and the goal of eventual complete disarmament.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Monday his country would temporarily boycott the CD.
“North Korea is simply not a credible chair of this U.N. body,” he said in a statement. “The regime is a major proliferator of nuclear weapons and its non-compliance with its disarmament obligations goes against the fundamental principles of this committee.”
“This undermines the integrity of both the disarmament framework and the U.N.,” Baird added. “Canada will not be party to that.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party won a decisive election victory in May, taking 54 percent of the vote and ending almost a decade of minority governments.
Baird said Harper’s government had “received a strong mandate to advance Canada’s values – freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law – on the world stage. As the prime minister said recently, Canada will no longer simply ‘go along to get along.’ Canada will not hesitate to take principled stands with respect to our foreign policy decisions.”
The Obama administration, however, is playing down the North Korean leadership post.
“The way this particular meeting works, the chair rotates among 60 countries,” Nuland said. “It is their turn. We do not see any particular damage that they can create in the chair given the way this particular forum operates, which is under parliamentary procedures and under consensus.”
“Our plan is not to take any particular action with regard to that meeting,” she said.
Asked about the symbolic importance of North Korea at the helm of the disarmament entity, Nuland replied, “Is it great? It’s not great. But it’s not going to affect our policy on disarmament or the focus of our attention, which is in the P5+1.”
The “P5+1” is the forum designed to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, comprising permanent U.N. Security Council members the U.S., France, China, Britain and Russia, plus Germany.
North Korea has built a nuclear weapons capability in defiance of the international community, is a leading proliferator, and has the world’s largest military in per capita terms – all issues key to the CD’s agenda.
A Geneva-based non-governmental organization, U.N. Watch, plans a demonstration outside the CD session in the Swiss city next month.
“Our protest will call on the international community to rally around North Korean victims of the regime’s inhuman practices, instead of legitimizing the perpetrator,” said the group’s executive director, Hillel Neuer.
He urged all CD member-states, and especially leading democracies like the U.S., Australia and European nations, to “register their strong protest.”
When North Korea was elevated to the chair last month, a U.N. summary of the day’s proceedings said that “[a]ll of the delegations who took the floor welcomed [North Korean delegate] So Se Pyong as the president of the Conference on Disarmament and said that they looked forward to his stewardship and working with him to revitalize and strengthen the Conference.”
As CNSNews.com reported, the move was not particularly unusual in the U.N. context. Other anomalous leadership decisions in recent years include Pakistan’s chairing of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Saudi Arabia’s election onto the board of the new U.N. women’s agency, and the repeated election of countries with poor human rights records onto the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, described Pyongyang’s chairing of the CD “a stunning, but not unique, illustration of how backwards the U.N. has become.”
“Time and again, the U.N. demonstrates that it is in dire need of real reform,” she added. “The U.N. must place pressure on rogue regimes, not hand them chairman gavels.”
Ros-Lehtinen plans to introduce legislation linking U.S. funding to the world body to “real and sweeping reforms,” with a shift from “assessed” to “voluntary” contributions to enable the U.S. to fund programs that are viewed as efficiently managed and in America’s interests.
The Obama administration, which has made heightened engagement with the U.N. a foreign policy priority, opposes such a shift.
“If the United States doesn’t pay our dues, why would others continue to support their dues going to missions that are great importance to the United States?” Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, asked in a recent speech in Washington.