China and South Korea agreed yesterday at the ASEAN Forum in Malaysia to seek dialogue with Pyongyang to discuss the country's missile and nuclear programs.
The regional security conference, set for today and tomorrow, brings together the foreign ministers of 25 countries and the European Union, including all six countries involved in the Korean nuclear talks, namely, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia and the United States.
The forum is the first time that the six countries are meeting since North Korea test-fired seven missiles on July 5. It was hoped the six nations could meet on the sidelines of the forum to revive negotiations.
The agreement, made during a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his South Korean counterpart, Ban Ki-moon, was as a result of Pyongyang's silence about returning to the stalled six-party talks aimed at resolving the security standoff on the Korean Peninsula.
"We agreed that it's necessary for the participants of the talks to meet in a six-way or other format on the sidelines of the security conference," Ban told reporters after one-on-one talks with Li.
But hopes of such a meeting have faded as Pyongyang has refused to join a six-nation meeting.
Pyongyang "is now at a crossroads," South Korea's top nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo said after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei.
"The attitude North Korea takes at the regional forum is very important to its future," he said.
Pyongyang has boycotted the talks since November in protest of a US crackdown on alleged financial wrongdoings. Pyongyang has demanded that the US lift financial restrictions against it.
North Korea's missile tests earlier this month prompted fresh calls for a resumption of six-party talks in hopes of persuading it to disarm in exchange for economic aid and security assurances.
The North Korean delegation, led by Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun, is scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur today.
Paek is to meet with Li tomorrow, according to a South Korean official. He was also expected to meet with Ban.
Ban said that a five-party meeting without Pyongyang is unlikely because some participants think that it could give the "impression of isolating North Korea."
He said Li also expressed reservations about holding a meeting without North Korea.
"We cherish the six-party talks, their channel and framework," Li said after meeting his ASEAN counterparts. "Conditions are ripe for their resumption."
(China Daily July 27, 2006)