BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) — Southeast Asian diplomats have not abandoned hope that this week's annual Asian security summit will provide a chance for North Korea and its neighbors to discuss restarting long-dormant disarmament talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, according to a joint statement released Sunday.
The top diplomats from North Korea and the five other nations involved in the now-stalled nuclear disarmament talks are gathering in Brunei for the Association of Southeast Asian Nation Regional Forum. The international standoff over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons is expected to take center stage, along with other regional issues, including South China Sea territorial disputes.
In the last six months, North Korea has launched a long-range rocket and conducted an atomic test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning the regime from nuclear and missile activity. Pyongyang calls the weapons buildup the core of its defense against U.S. aggression, and has vowed to push ahead in constructing the arsenal as long as it feels threatened by the U.S.
Top diplomats from the 10 ASEAN countries urged the six nations involved in past disarmament negotiations — North Korea, South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China — to restart the talks. The disarmament-for-aid talks hosted by Beijing were last held in 2008.
"We emphasized the importance of dialogue aimed at promoting mutual understanding and confidence among all parties concerned with ensuring peace, security and stability on the Korean Peninsula," they said in a joint statement. "In this regard, we recommended that the (regional forum), where all six members to the six-party talks are also participants, could contribute to forging a conducive atmosphere for the resumption of the six-party talks."
Still, it's not clear whether North Korea will hold informal talks with the U.S. or South Korea on the sidelines of the forum. The governments in Seoul and Washington have said they have no immediate plans to meet privately with Pyongyang.
In recent weeks, North Korea has proposed restarting the talks, which once provided Pyongyang with crucial fuel and other aid in exchange for disarmament. But the U.S. and South Korea say North Korea first must demonstrate its sincerity on nuclear disarmament with concrete action.
"Recently, North Korea suddenly started a charm offensive. (South Korea) has always been open to a dialogue, but it will not have a dialogue for the sake of dialogue itself," South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said during a meeting with his counterparts from ASEAN countries, China and Japan, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
He said South Korea "hopes to see North Korea take the necessary actions toward denuclearization so that an appropriate environment conducive to the resumption of dialogues, such as the six-party talks, can be resumed," Yonhap said, citing a copy of Yun's remarks.