South Korea said yesterday that efforts are under way to hold six-nation talks on the North's nuclear ambitions at an Asian security forum where the issue promises to dominate the agenda.
North Korea raised the stakes ahead of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) which meets on Friday, describing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is also attending as a "political imbecile" for criticizing its recent missile tests.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who is in Kuala Lumpur for the forum hosted by ASEAN, said North Korea's participation in the six-way talks hung in the balance.
"There have been discussions ... that it is necessary for the foreign ministers of the six parties to discuss the early resumption of the six-party talks," Ban told journalists. "But I am not certain that North Korea's foreign minister is interested in the process."
North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun is due to arrive in the Malaysian capital tomorrow.
Ban has expressed hopes that he will have a bilateral meeting with Paek here, but said the schedules have yet to fixed.
"I would stress that North Korea's return to six-way talks is crucial to settling the issue of missile tests," he said. "I have proposed the meeting to my North Korean counterpart, but I have not yet had confirmation from him."
Meanwhile, ASEAN ministers also yesterday wrangled over how to handle Myanmar's refusal to embrace reforms, with intense debate over the wording of their statement on their troublesome neighbor.
ASEAN had been expected to issue a strong criticism of Myanmar in its communique at the end of foreign ministers' talks, but some countries were pushing for it to be watered down. Discussions on the statement went into overtime late yesterday, with an ASEAN official telling reporters that "extended talks on Myanmar" were responsible for the delay.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the continuing problems with the military junta in Yangon had affected the world's perception of the 10-member regional bloc.
"The situation in Myanmar is impacting upon the image and credibility of ASEAN. We would very much like to have Myanmar move forward with the rest of ASEAN," he said yesterday.
A draft of the communique from earlier this month obtained by AFP included a call for the release of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition figures in detention.
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