Hanoi (AFP) Nov 19, 2006
Major Asia Pacific powers issued a compromise statement Sunday that called for swift talks to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons drive but glossed over divisions on how far to push Pyongyang. The statement on the closing day of the APEC summit in Vietnam, which came after days of diplomatic wrangling, was not officially published and only read out to reporters at a press conference after leaders had left the venue.
It expressed "strong concern" at the North's October 9 test, endorsed UN sanctions against the Stalinist regime and called for an early resumption of stalled six-way talks on putting an end to its nuclear ambitions.
But the way it came out underscored the delicacy of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to try to restart six-party negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting offered leaders of five of the six -- North Korea is not a member and so was not present -- a rare chance to confer on the sidelines of the Hanoi summit.
"We did not avoid this issue," Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet told journalists, but said it was "not the major item" of the summit.
An Asian diplomat said the Vietnamese hosts would likely not have wanted a written statement as it would have been recorded as an official Hanoi summit document.
"They didn't really want to be involved with the issue," she told AFP, "but probably couldn't refuse the pressure.
"Delivering the statement in the oral form, I think the Vietnamese probably found more comfortable."
North Korea stunned the world on October 9 when it detonated a nuclear device for the first time, triggering global condemnation and UN sanctions.
Amid fierce pressure, including from its closest ally China, it agreed two weeks ago to return to the six-way negotiations it abandoned a year ago in protest at US financial sanctions.
Negotiators have been struggling since then to fix a date for a resumption, with Washington demanding Pyongyang first take "concrete steps" to show it is serious.
US deputy national security advisor David McCormick dodged questions about whether the absence of a written statement from APEC was a blow to the hardline US stance.
"I guess I would focus on the substance of the question, which is have the members, have the leader countries, have the leaders agreed to a common view and a common approach on North Korea, and I think the answer is yes," he told reporters.
His superior, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, had said Saturday that a statement was "pretty well agreed" although he alluded to the wrangling by saying there were a couple of outstanding issues "dealing mostly with the form, not the substance."
The eventual statement, as delivered, restated APEC's commitment to peace and security.
It said: "We express our strong concern over the July 4-5 missile launches and October 9 nuclear test ... which pose a clear threat to our shared interest of peace and security and our shared goal of achieving a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula."
It also urged "concrete and effective steps toward full implementation" of North Korea's promise last year -- before walking out of the talks -- to halt its weapons drive in return for trade and security guarantees.
Earlier Sunday, before the statement came out, US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao said Pyongyang "should get the message" that the world would not tolerate it possessing nuclear weapons.
Bush, Hu, Russia's Vladimir Putin, South Korea's Roh Moo-Hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have held a flurry of bilateral talks over the weekend.
A US official said there was growing convergence between Washington and Beijing, while other officials said the chief US nuclear negotiator, Christopher Hill, would travel Monday to China for further talks.
A Japanese government official said that the statement reflected the global community's "severe stance" on the North.
"We think the statement is very meaningful. ... We hope North Korea will sincerely listen to the voice of the international society and take action in good faith."
earlier related report
"The 'preemptive attack on the North' means provocation of a nuclear war," a spokesman for Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The comments came in response to remarks by South Korean air force academy professors, who told a seminar in Seoul earlier this month it was time for Seoul to consider a "preemptive attack" on North Korea as an option to incapacitate Pyongyang.
North Korea declared itself a nuclear power following its October 9 underground test of its first atomic bomb. It sparked international sanctions and condemnation, especially from the US, Japan and neighboring South Korea.
The North's spokesman repeated Sunday Pyongyang's nuclear deterrent was actually targeting what he called the US "nuclear threat", not South Koreans.
"This is an intolerable provocation against the DPRK (North Korea) and a treacherous crime seeking to act as a shock brigade in executing the US nuclear war against the DPRK," the spokesman added.
"The South Korean warlike forces ... will never escape a shameless defeat in face of a merciless and just counter-attack from the North."
The two Koreas have been technically at war since the 1950-1953 conflict that ended in a fragile armistice, not a peace treaty.
Both sides had launched a series of peace initiatives since a summit in 2000 between their leaders, but such peaceful engagement suffered a setback following the North's missile tests in July and the October 9 nuclear test.
An Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit forum that ended in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday expressed "strong concern" over North Korea's nuclear test, and supported UN sanctions to press the communist state to disarm.
North Korea announced on November 1 it would return to six-way talks on scrapping its nuclear program, ending a year-long boycott in protest at US restrictions on its overseas bank accounts.
The talks, which also involve the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, are expected to resume next month.
Minju Joson, a newspaper published by the Pyongyang government, Sunday accused South Korea of bringing in more jets, warships and guided missiles in line with US "provocative moves" against North Korea.
"The South Korean bellicose forces would be better off knowing that confrontation with fellow countrymen is a suicidal act of digging their own graves," Minju Joson said in a dispatch monitored here.
"War knows no mercy. Only miserable defeat will await those who run reckless, keen on serving outside aggressors."
Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling communist party paper, ran a dispatch Sunday about what it calls the idea of "By our nation itself" underlying the unity between South and North Koreans.
Source: Agence France-Presse
APEC summit in Vietnam
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White House Dismisses Hersh Article
Washington (AFP) Nov 19, 2006
The White House on Sunday dismissed an article about Washington's intentions toward Iran by US journalist Seymour Hersh. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino derided Hersh's article in the upcoming issue of The New Yorker as "riddled with inaccuracies" and charged that "once again he is creating a story to satisfy his own radical views."
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