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Canada boycotts nuclear talks over North Korea leadership role

The Canadian foreign minister calls it “absurd” that North Korea, accused of exporting nuclear technology to Iran, Syria and Burma, should be president of the U.N.'s nuclear disarmament body.

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Protesters rally against North Korea on May 25, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea, after Pyongyang announced that it had successfully conducted a second nuclear test. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

OTTAWA, Canada — Canada is boycotting a U.N. nuclear disarmament conference to protest North Korea’s four-week presidency of the body. 

The Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, said it was “absurd” that North Korea had taken the rotating presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

"North Korea is simply not a credible chair of a disarmament body," Baird said on Monday.

The presidency of the 65-nation conference rotates every four weeks. Canada will resume its involvement with the Geneva-based body on August 19, when North Korea’s term as president is over.

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The United States has indicated that it does not intend to similarly withdraw from the conference over North Korea's leadership role, according to the BBC.

In May, a U.N. panel accused North Korea of exporting nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Syria and Burma in violation of sanctions.

"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,” Baird said in a statement.

“This undermines the integrity of both the disarmament framework and the U.N. Canada will not be party to that."

The U.N. report in May said that North Korea had used “masking techniques,” such as mislabeling shipping container contents and falsifying information about destinations of goods, to export weapons.

The Conference on Disarmament is the U.N.'s only forum for negotiating arms control agreements and non-proliferation treaties. It is focused on preventing a nuclear arms race.

Baird said that Canada will seek to change the rule of the rotating presidency, Reuters reports.

"It puts one of the world's worst offenders in the chair. It hurts the credibility of the United Nations and it's a blow to any meaningful effort at disarmament," Baird said, according to the CBC. "I think there's a lot of symbolism here but I think it is important that Canada put forward its voice strongly on this issue."