Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Powell arrives for ASEAN talks

REGIONAL SECURITY North Korea's foreign minister declared his willingness to meet the US secretary of state on the sidelines of the forum if the US side requests it

AFP , JAKARTA

US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Indonesia yesterday to attend a regional security forum which is expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear threat and efforts to fight terror on land and sea.

Powell arrived at a military airbase in the Indonesian capital after a visit to Sudan.

He was to hold talks later yesterday with members of ASEAN and attend today's annual meeting of the 23-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

ARF, the Asia-Pacific's only security forum, includes all six countries involved in talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program -- China, Russia, the US, Japan and North and South Korea.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun is willing to meet Powell on the sidelines of the forum if the US side requests it, a Pyongyang official said on Wednesday.

A third round of six-party talks ended on Saturday in Beijing, with signs of flexibility but no concrete progress.

Participants agreed to meet again by the end of September.

At the last round the US put forward a new plan which would give the North three months to shut down and seal its nuclear weapons facilities in return for major economic and diplomatic rewards.

It was the first significant overture to Pyongyang since US President George W. Bush took office in early 2001 and placed Stalinist North Korea on an "axis of evil," alongside Iran and pre-war Iraq.

North Korea rejected the proposal as unrealistic but Washington said it expects the North to study it. Terrorism, including the threat of seaborne attacks in the piracy-prone Malacca Strait, is also expected to figure large on ARF's agenda. The US and Singapore are worried that terrorists could hijack an oil or gas tanker and use it as a floating bomb in a maritime version of Sept. 11.

However, the US recently backed away from suggestions that US forces might help patrol the waterway separating Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia after it raised hackles in Indonesia and Malaysia.

About half the world's oil supplies pass through the strait.

Forum members will also discuss this week's handover of power in Iraq. ASEAN chair Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-populated nation, was fiercely critical of the US invasion.

In an implied criticism of the military operation, ASEAN foreign ministers after a meeting on Wednesday described "surging unilateralism" as one of the world's challenges.

Powell will also be at odds with ASEAN on efforts to establish democracy in army-ruled member Myanmar.

The ministers on Wednesday dropped calls made last year for the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and merely "underlined the need for the involvement of all strata of Myanmar society in the ongoing national convention" which is drafting a constitution.

Powell will seek more action from ASEAN to bring about democratic reforms, Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner said this week.

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