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Isolated NKorea peeks out at world at Asian talks: analysts

Police women guard stand guard next to a banner of 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting displayed at the entrance of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, in Kuala Lumpur, 24 July 2006. Photo courtesy of Teh Eng Koon and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Jul 25, 2006
North Korea's presence at a regional forum here this week provides a rare chance for the pariah state to escape mounting diplomatic isolation after its missile tests, analysts say.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun is due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur Thursday to attend Asia's top security talks, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), according to officials at the North Korean embassy here.

"Unless they want to be completely isolated, this is an opportunity they shouldn't pass up," Peter Beck, a director of Northeast Asia Project and senior analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told AFP.

"They need to keep a couple of doors open. The ASEAN forum is one of the only doors, I think, left that they can try to keep open."

Since its test-firing of seven ballistic missiles on July 5, North Korea has been more ostracised than ever by the international community, he said.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the tests and imposed weapons-related sanctions, even winning the support of the North's long-time ally China.

The United States and Japan have since put forward various punitive measures and South Korea, another key sympathizer of Pyongyang, suspended aid to the impoverished state.

Besides tensions over the missile tests, North Korea faces a separate battle-front in the form of six-nation disarmament talks aimed at ending its nuclear arms program.

North Korea is under mounting pressure to come back to the talks which it has boycottted since November in protest over US financial sanctions.

"But for participating in the ASEAN forum, North Korea would be isolated further and keep being dragged by the US-led offensive rationale," said Ko Yu-Hwan, professor at South Korea's Donguk University.

The ASEAN Regional Forum will bring together foreign ministers and key officials of all the countries participating in the six-way talks -- the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan.

Despite hopes that they could convene an impromptu meeting in Kuala Lumpur and make longed-for progress on the crisis, Ko said he expects no big policy change here.

"North Korea has a daunting task at the forum to actively justify its internationally unpopular position over missile tests and to ease tensions," he said.

"But it remains unclear that North Korea will come back to the six-way dialogue without any meaningful contact with the United States."

North Korea has insisted on first addressing the financial sanctions issue with the United States before reviving the multilateral talks. Washington has flatly rejected the offer.

The United States and South Korea have been pushing for an unofficial "five-nation" nuclear meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum regardless of North Korea's participation.

The Malaysian hosts have said that North Korea would meet South Korea on the sidelines of this week's meeting, but that it is not yet ready to rejoin the six-party nuclear talks.

The ICG's Beck said that North Korea would be the losers if they returned to their trademark brinkmanship.

"As long as they are on the path of provocation, I don't think they are going to be able to break out of the isolation," he said.

North Korea's foreign ministry has angrily rejected the UN resolution and vowed to bolster its defenses. Its UN envoy threatened to test more missiles.

North Korean media on Monday stepped up their anti-US rhetoric, calling US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- who is also due to attend the forum in Kuala Lumpur -- an "imbecile."

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