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US boycotts arms control conference in protest at Venezuela

US boycotts arms control conference in protest at Venezuela
The United States walked out of a UN disarmament forum in protest after Venezuela took up the conference’s rotating chairmanship, insisting it would not participate in a conference led by a “rogue state.”

“Whatever is discussed in there, whatever is decided, has absolutely no legitimacy because it is an illegitimate regime presiding over that body,” US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) Robert Wood told reporters Tuesday after he stormed out of the meeting.

Wood ditched the forum as soon as his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Valero was granted the conference’s presidency – which rotates on a monthly basis – calling Valero’s acceptance speech a “diatribe of propaganda.”

The US and its allies in the Lima Group – comprised of more than a dozen Latin American allies including Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Chile – will boycott the CD for the next four weeks, until the new chair takes over, Wood said in a statement after the meeting.

The CD was established in 1984 to provide an international forum for arms control negotiations, and is held three times a year in Geneva. Sixty-five countries currently participate in the conference, including all states with a declared nuclear arsenal.

Washington, along with a handful of allies, supports Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself ‘interim president’ in January, with US recognition. The pro-Guaido bloc considers Venezuela’s elected president, Nicolas Maduro, to be illegitimate.

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Wood demanded the CD chairmanship be granted to a member of the opposition.

“A representative of Juan Guaido, the interim president, should be in this body, should be sitting in that chair right now,” he said, adding that the Maduro government “is in essence dead, it just doesn’t want to lay down.”

US President Donald Trump has ramped up sanctions on Venezuela in recent months, crippling energy exports of a country already in dire straights and depriving the socialist government of much needed revenue. Washington considers sanctions part of another “maximum pressure campaign,” designed to coerce the Maduro government into compliance.

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The US endorsed an opposition coup attempt in late April, but the uprising failed to inspire mass defections from the security forces and fizzled out within days, leaving Washington and the Guaido faction frustrated.

Ambassador Wood staged a walkout at last year’s CD as well, in that case over Syria’s elevation to the chair position. Wood worked off a similar script then, ditching the meeting as the Syrian ambassador began his address and complaining to reporters outside the chamber.

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