NKorea likely to get cold shoulder at Asia forum

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 29, 2013 at 2:55 am •  Published: June 29, 2013

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) — A regional security summit in this tiny Southeast Asian sultanate is the sort of venue where North Korea has often managed to open up sideline discussions with Seoul and Washington. This time, while there will be plenty of talk about Pyongyang, there is little chance of substantive talk with it.

North Korea has sought negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea but has ignored their demands that it first honor prior commitments to move toward nuclear disarmament. At high-level diplomatic talks beginning this weekend, it can expect the cold shoulder from those countries and others frustrated by Pyongyang's insistence on developing nuclear weapons.

After a December long-range rocket launch, a February nuclear test and weeks of threats to defend itself from aggression with nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States, North Korea earlier this month made a surprise offer for separate talks with its rivals.

Government delegates from the two Koreas met and agreed to hold senior-level talks on non-nuclear issues, but the plan collapsed over a protocol dispute. The United States responded coolly to Pyongyang's appeal for direct negotiations, which some analysts view as a familiar effort to win aid in return for ratcheting down tensions.

"While it is certainly preferable for North Korea to pursue diplomatic rather than missile or nuclear tests, all of North Korea's neighbors by now are well aware of North Korea's history of diplomatic initiatives as just another tool through which North Korea has sought to consolidate gains following periods in which North Korean brinkmanship has driven political tensions to high levels," Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, wrote in a blog post.

North Korea quit disarmament-for-aid talks with five other nations — South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China — in 2009 to protest international condemnation over a long-range rocket launch.

He added that agreeing to hold talks with the North "and come back to the table as though nothing has changed since the last six-party talks were held in 2008 would imply acceptance" of Pyongyang's rocket launches and nuclear tests.

Whether or not Washington and its allies ignore Pyongyang's diplomats, North Korea's atomic aspirations are on the agenda in talks surrounding the 27-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, which takes place Tuesday in the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.

A draft of the forum chairman's statement provided to The Associated Press said that the meetings would reaffirm the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and that most participants urged North Korea "to abide by its obligations" under U.N. Security Council resolutions and commitments made in a joint statement following six-party talks in 2005.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from South Korea, China and Japan will attend the forum and could hold private meetings that touch on Pyongyang.

On Saturday, North Korea's longtime foreign minister, Pak Ui Chun, departed Pyongyang for Brunei. He was seen off at the airport by Liu Hongcai, China's ambassador to North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang's biggest ally but has pushed its neighbor on denuclearization.

Because the ASEAN forum gathers diplomats from all six countries involved in the long-stalled disarmament negotiations it has previously provided a chance to use informal, sideline talks to break stalemates over the nuclear issue.

In 2011, top nuclear envoys from the two Koreas met on the sidelines of the forum in Bali, Indonesia, and agreed to work toward a resumption of the six-nation talks, though the negotiations remain stalled. The Koreas' foreign ministers held sideline talks in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2007, and top diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington also met privately in 2004 and 2008.

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