ASEAN chief sees hope for N.Korea nuclear talks
Tue, Jul 20, 2010

HANOI - ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said Tuesday that a regional security forum in Vietnam this week could breathe "new life" into stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to be held in Hanoi on Friday will be the first time the top diplomats involved in the six-party disarmament dialogue have met since the sinking of a South Korean warship raised tensions in March.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in the Vietnamese capital on Monday and are expected to call for a resumption of the talks "as soon as possible", according to a draft statement.

"I understand the ministers will ... make use of the presence of the foreign minister of North Korea to engage in a discussion to see if the six-party talks can be given a new life," Surin told reporters.

"The ministers will encourage the six-party talks to make the best use of this opportunity."

The talks involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States - all of which are grouped in the 27-member ARF.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun will attend the ARF meeting Friday alongside their counterparts from China, Japan and Russia.

The disarmament dialogue agreed in 2005 and 2007 to offer aid and security guarantees to Pyongyang if it abandons its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea stormed out of the talks last year, when it test-fired a missile and carried out a second test of a nuclear bomb.

Pyongyang offered to return after the United Nations earlier this month condemned the sinking of the South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea but did not apportion blame for the incident.

The Security Council statement - hailed by the North as a "great diplomatic victory" - had been watered down under pressure from Pyongyang's key ally China.

South Korea, the United States and other nations, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuse the North of firing a torpedo that sank the warship with the loss of 46 lives.

The United States has voiced skepticism over North Korea's offer to resume the disarmament talks, saying the communist state must first cease "provocative behavior" and show it is serious about dialogue.

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