Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Annual meeting of Asian nations could see progress on North Korea

Nations concerned about North Korea's continuing refusal to give up its nuclear weapons program hope Thursday's scheduled address by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the ASEAN Regional Forum will help break the frustrating stalemate. The annual security meeting, which is expected to be attended by high-ranking officials from Asian and European countries, also is expected to focus on the behavior of the military junta ruling Myanmar, according to the Reuters international news service. Clinton is expected to be sharply critical of Pyongyang's activities, which has included an underground nuclear detonation and a series of ballistic missile tests in the past year. "Full normalization of relations, a permanent peace regime, and significant energy and economic assistance are all possible in the context of full and verifiable denuclearization," Clinton is expected to say at the meeting, according to a summary of her planned remarks, Reuters said. "North Korea's ongoing threatening behavior does not inspire trust, nor does it permit us to sit idly by." But Clinton has not given any indication that she expects a breakthrough in dealings with Pyongyang, which has refused to budget despite offers of billions of dollars in aid by the West and the imposition of escalating U.N. economic sanctions. During last year's election in South Korea, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Seoul was willing to set up a $40 billion investment fund, equal to twice Pyongyang's yearly economic output, if North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons. On Myanmar, formerly Burma, Clinton raised concerns this week that the military government was sharing nuclear technology with North Korea. For its part, a top North Korean official said Pyongyang would not stand for being repeatedly criticized at the meeting and has reportedly downgraded its representation to lower-level diplomats, Reuters said.

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