US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday led calls for restraint over a Thai-Cambodia border dispute and North Korea signed a non-aggression treaty during annual Asian security talks.
The discussions among foreign ministers from Southeast Asia and key world powers also tackled North Korea’s denuclearization and disaster preparedness after two major tragedies, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and an earthquake in China.
The US, Russia and China were among the nations which participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) security meeting.
At the end of the talks, North Korea signed a non-aggression treaty with ASEAN, taking another small step toward normalizing its relations with the outside world.
Rice urged Thailand and Cambodia to resolve their differences peacefully as troops faced off on either side of their border near historic temple ruins.
“It is something that has been a subject of discussion. We are concerned about it and there needs to be a way to resolve it peacefully,” she told reporters.
Some 4,000 Thai and Cambodian soldiers are facing each other over a small patch of land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, in one of the most dangerous flare-ups of regional tensions in decades.
The dispute was expected to be discussed later yesterday at the UN Security Council after Cambodia called for the world body to help resolve the issue.
Thailand has resisted outside mediation. Crisis talks earlier this week among the 10-member ASEAN failed to break the deadlock between its two members.
Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo, who was chairing the talks, said all 27 ARF members “called for restraint, a speedy resolution and to maintain the status quo.”
He added that Cambodia’s appeal to the Security Council was seen as “premature.”
The forum took place after an unprecedented meeting in Singapore on Wednesday between Rice and her North Korean counterpart in six-party negotiations aimed at ridding the hermit state of its nuclear arsenal.
In their first ever meeting, Rice shook hands twice with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and called for Pyongyang to agree on a proposed protocol for verifying the dismantling of its nuclear program.
The US has said North Korea remains part of an “axis of evil.”
Foreign ministers from their six-party counterparts China, South Korea, Russia and Japan were also present at the informal meeting, the highest-level gathering of the group since the nuclear dialog began in 2003.
“I don’t think the North Koreans left with any illusions about the fact that the ball is in their court and that everybody believes that they have got to respond and respond positively on verification,” Rice said yesterday.
Officials and analysts said North Korea’s signing of the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia was a fresh signal of its desire to be seen as a normal member of the international community.
“Every little step that we take towards encouraging North Korea to abide by international norms is a step in a positive direction,” said Andrew Tan, spokesman for the ASEAN meetings.
Disaster preparedness has also risen high on the regional agenda after Cyclone Nargis struck military-ruled Myanmar and the earthquake in southwest China together left more than 200,000 people dead or missing in May.
ASEAN was criticized for failing to pressure Myanmar to open its borders to foreign relief workers in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, but won praise by eventually leading a joint international aid effort.