Efforts to block Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs were in the spotlight as ministers and officials from 28 Asian and Middle Eastern countries begin talks in Doha yesterday.
Host nation Qatar says the Asia Cooperation Dialogue aims to foster cooperation in energy, finance, technology, agriculture and tourism.
"It is going to focus on economic issues, not politics," said Mohammed Abdullah Al Rumaihi, a Qatari assistant foreign minister, ahead of the forum which ends today.
But on the sidelines of the forum, Asia's biggest foreign policy players are set to discuss the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea and try to smooth over nagging disputes.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is due to meet his Chinese and Russian counterparts, Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) and Sergei Lavrov, to find ways to end the deadlock in six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso also hopes to hold bilateral talks with Li, the first meeting of foreign ministers from Japan and China in a year. Officials said talks between Aso and Li could cover North Korea and also territorial disputes, including a row over a natural gas field in the East China Sea.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have also been soured by a territorial dispute over a set of desolate islands that are claimed by both nations. A planned meeting between Aso and Ban is their first since the long-standing row over the islets flared up last month when Japan announced plans for a maritime survey of the area.
Iran is one of the 28 members of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, and although diplomats say Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will not attend and will be represented by a deputy, officials from several countries say they want to discuss the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.
Another issue likely to be discussed is who should be the next secretary-general of the UN. Kofi Annan has said he should be succeeded by an Asian, but no consensus has yet emerged over a candidate, with Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala, Ban and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai all in the running.
Meanwhile, China yesterday defended its nuclear cooperation with Iran following a BBC report that traced Tehran's newly announced ability to enrich uranium to Chinese assistance.
Beijing abided by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in collaborating with Iran on "peacefully using nuclear technology" and reported their dealings to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) said.
The BBC report last week quoted Western diplomats as saying Iran may have used a small amount of material sold by China in 1991 for the uranium enrichment process. The diplomats said that indicated the program may not be as advanced as it appears.
The report also cited the diplomats as saying China's decision to inform the IAEA of the uranium sale might have helped to reveal the full extent of Iran's nuclear program.
"Since 1992 China has been a party to the NPT and we have been honoring our commitments," Liu said at a news briefing. "We have reported our cooperation with Iran to the IAEA."
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