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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on July 5, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on July 5, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Boycotting N. Korean term, John Baird vows to seek reform of UN arms panel Add to ...

Canada will push for reforms to the UN's disarmament agency, believing its problems go deeper than a rotating presidency that allows international pariah North Korea to serve as its chair, John Baird says.

The Harper government has decided to boycott the United Nations Conference on Disarmament for a month because it's North Korea's turn to take the helm.

But in a conference call with reporters Monday, the Foreign Affairs Minister said the UN agency - the forum for negotiating international arms-control treaties - has been so bogged down by efforts to reach unanimous consensus that it's struggling to move forward.

"This group, in the past, has done a lot," he said. "They have been successful on a number of important treaties. The CoD and its predecessors have negotiated major multi-multi-lateral arms limitations."

The body did have a good work programme in 2009, but failed to implement it, he added.

"I think recently, they've struggled with the notion of requiring a consensus," Mr. Baird said. "That means one country can prevent consensus on even the establishment of a work plan, let alone it being implemented."

With its boycott, Canada is "seeking to try to reform the group so that it can be more successful in fulfilling its main mandate."

Canadian representatives will return after Aug. 19, when North Korea cedes the chairmanship, with a proposal to change rules that see the chair rotate between each of the 65 members, Mr. Baird said.

North Korea, a repressive dictatorship, has developed nuclear weapons and is persistently cited as one of the world's worst violators of human rights.

The Harper government has in the past occasionally chosen to make very public statements with boycotts at the UN, like walking out on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to the General Assembly in 2009 or staying away from the UN-sponsored world conference on racism, which Ottawa called anti-semitic.

Mr. Baird said that in this instance failing to speak up would allow the UN's credibility to be eroded. And he hinted the same problem might recur later this year when Iran becomes the chair.

Quitting the Conference on Disarmament appears, however, to have been a snap decision to make a show, rather than a planned policy.

Canada's permanent representative to the UN's office in Geneva, Marius Grinius, made remarks congratulating the North Koreans when they took over.

Mr. Baird rebuffed repeated questions about the ambassador's statement, and why Mr. Grinius apparently didn't know that Canada was about to drop out of the body for a month to protest Pyongyang's chairmanship.

"Obviously I'm stating very clearly what the Canadian position is in this regard," he said.

Separately, the Foreign Affairs Minister said it would be meaningless if the UN General Assembly recognized Palestinian statehood this fall.

He dismissed the Palestinian campaign to win recognition at the UN in a September vote as a public-relations move. Canada would be thrilled to welcome a new Palestinian state, Mr. Baird added, but only after peaceful negotiations with Israel.

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