North Korea, under fire for its own nuclear programme, took the helm of the Conference on Disarmament for the first time yesterday to a chorus of protests and called for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The ascension of the secretive and Stalinist state to the monthly rotating presidency of the 65-member UN-backed talks got the cold shoulder from other countries and drew criticism from human rights groups and dissidents.
Canada did not attend the session, having promised to boycott the chairmanship of what it called a "major proliferator of nuclear weapons".
"Allowing an international outlaw to oversee international arms control efforts is just plain wrong," Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based group UN Watch said in a statement.
"North Korea is a ruthless regime that menaces its neighbours and starves its own people and should not be granted the propaganda coup of heading a world body dedicated to peace."
So Se Pyong, North Korean's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, did not refer to the controversy as he chaired the talks, attended by all other delegations including South Korea and the US.
The mercurial North conducted its second nuclear test in 2009, triggering UN sanctions that cut off a lucrative arms trade, further squeezing its moribund economy.
North Korea said on Monday it had agreed to further dialogue with the US and repeated it was willing to resume regional nuclear disarmament talks at an early date.
Both Pyongyang and Washington called the discussions "constructive".