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All Headlines 10:35 July 04, 2013

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

ARF's Top Diplomats Call for Denuclearization of North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Top diplomats from 26 Asia-Pacific countries and the European Union called for North Korea on July 2 to denuclearize after fully abiding by its past pledges to end its nuclear programs.

In a chairman's statement, this year's meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) urged the "DPRK (North Korea) to comply fully" with its obligations to all relevant U.N. Security Council sanction resolutions against its menacing missile and nuclear activities.

The region's largest security conference, held in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, gathered the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other partners including the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and the European Union.

"To this end, ministers reiterated their support for all efforts to bring about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner," the statement said. "The ministers further encouraged exploring all possibility of engaging in a peaceful dialogue which would lead to the creation of an atmosphere of trust and confidence among the concerned parties."

The ministers, in particular, asked North Korea to honor a deal adopted by the six-party talks on Sept. 19, 2005 in which it had agreed to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political benefits from the outside world.

The deal fell apart a year later when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, prompting the U.N. Security Council to take punitive sanctions against the socialist country. The North has since conducted two more nuclear tests, drawing stronger sanctions.

The Asia-Pacific nations also "emphasized the importance of addressing the issues of humanitarian concerns of the international community," according to the statement.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters that the ARF "sent a very strong message" to North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Most ministers at the meeting expressed a very strong message to the North Korean delegation that they should denuclearize and they should refrain from provocative actions," Yun said. "So, North Korea must heed these messages from the international community."

A high-ranking South Korean delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity after the statement was issued, said most foreign ministers ignored North Korea's claims during the forum.

"With regard to North Korea's nuclear issue, I can say that 26 member states of the 27-member ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) sounded a united voice," the delegate said.

During the forum, neither South Korean or U.S. officials held a one-on-one meeting with North Korea, the delegate added.

The ARF has served as an important venue for discussions on North Korea because it gathers the foreign ministers of the six nations involved in talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions. The six-party forum, which involves the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Japan and Russia, has been suspended since 2008.

The 27 members of the ARF are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, East Timor, the U.S., Vietnam and the European Union.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry officials said that this year's statement appears to contain a stronger message toward Pyongyang than previous ones.

They noted the document directly mentioned the North using its name and articulated its responsibilities. It also excluded North Korea's proposed wording that the U.S.'s "hostile policy" is the root cause of the nuclear issue and aggravates tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Still, North Korea remained defiant, however, indicating it would continue to ignore the six-party agreement of 2005, despite calls from the U.S., China and South Korea to show its resolve to comply with the landmark accord.

"The Sept. 19 joint statement is already behind the times. Realistically speaking, the statement outlines the tasks for each of the six countries, which we executed whereas the U.S. and the South did not," Choe Myong-nam, deputy chief of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's international organizations bureau, told reporters. He also called the U.N. resolutions "illegal and evil," saying that the North would continue to resist.

Choe quoted North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun as telling the forum's session that the nuclear gridlock will not be resolved unless Washington scraps its hostile policy and nuclear umbrella over Seoul.

He once again urged the U.S. to accept its offer of senior-level talks over a peace mechanism to replace the 1953 Korean War armistice, lift sanctions and dismantle the U.N. Command in the South. The overture was made by North Korean Ambassador to the U.N. Sin Son-ho in New York in late June.

After months of high tension triggered by the nuclear test in February, and bellicose threats against South Korea and the U.S., North Korea appeared to be shifting toward dialogue in recent weeks.

Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea's vice foreign minister in charge of nuclear negotiations, left for Moscow on July 2 for talks with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, according to state media.

During a June trip to Beijing, Kim displayed the regime's willingness to engage in "various dialogues including the six-party talks" to top Chinese officials including Yang Jiechi, a Chinese State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs.

A separate delegation led by Kim Song-nam, deputy director of international affairs at the (North) Korean Workers' Party, arrived in the Chinese capital later in the day.

In May, he accompanied Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army, when he went to Beijing as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's special envoy and signaled Pyongyang's intention for dialogue.

South Korea and the U.S. remain firm in their demand for the North to prove its sincerity for talks through action.

During the ARF, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on July 1 that Washington, Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo are "absolutely united and absolutely firm in our insistence that the future with respect to North Korea must include denuclearization."

The possibilities of "normal relationships" between North Korea and the South, China and the U.S. "lie at the end of engaging in a serious set of steps to denuclearize and serious negotiations that could accompany that," he said at a news conference.

After holding bilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the security forum, Kerry told reporters, "China made it clear to me that they have made very firm statements and very firm steps they have taken with respect to the implementation of that policy."

In Brunei, however, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se downplayed North Korea's recent dialogue offers as a "charm offensive," insisting that any talks with the North are meaningless unless the communist country is serious about abandoning its nuclear program.

"Recently, North Korea suddenly started a charm offensive. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) has always been open to a dialogue, but it will not have a dialogue for the sake of dialogue itself," Yun said during the so-called ASEAN-plus-three foreign ministers meeting on June 30.

"North Korea must first demonstrate its sincerity through concrete actions by abiding by its international obligations under the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and its own commitments on denuclearization," Yun said.

On July 2, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak called for the United States to hold direct talks with Pyongyang "without preconditions," ignoring calls by Washington to show sincerity for denuclearization before such talks take place.

"If the U.S. truly wants to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, it should accept our offer of high-level talks without preconditions," Pak was quoted as saying by Choe Myong-nam during the meeting.

Choe criticized South Korea for "intentionally" scrapping the planned inter-Korean talks. North Korea and South Korea had planned to have high-level talks earlier in June, the first of their kind in over six years, to discuss resumption of stalled joint economic ventures, but the plan fell apart after a disagreement over the rank of their chief delegates.

"With the collapse of the North-South talks, we have not been interested in holding dialogue with the South," Choe said.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that he urged North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, while calling for an early resumption of the six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions.

Wang made the remarks shortly after holding bilateral talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun at a hotel on the sidelines of the regional security conference.

"Our unchangeable goal is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to make efforts to achieve the goal," Wang told reporters.

To convince North Korea to give up its nuclear ambition, Wang said, "We certainly need the six-party talks. To have the six-party talks, the Chinese side will continue to talk to all the parties concerned to work toward the common goal of creating conditions" to resume the talks.

"I just want to let you know that as the chair of the six-party talks we will continue to encourage peaceful sentiment for dialogue," Wang said.

China is a key provider of economic aid and diplomatic protection to North Korea, but bilateral ties appear to have been strained since the North's third nuclear test in February.

South Korea and the United States have urged China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program, but Beijing has been reluctant to use that leverage over concern that pushing the North too hard could hurt its own national interests.

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