PostHeaderIcon Japan, SKorea To Seek North's Return To Talks at ASEAN Forum

The agreement was reached at a meeting of the chief Japanese and South Korean delegates to the six-nation talks, which have been suspended since November, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement. The meeting came amid a recent split between the countries over the North. South Korea, which is reconciling with its communist neighbor, has criticized Japan's drive to punish Pyongyang for its July 5 tests of seven missiles. South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Chun Yung-Woo and Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Japanese ministry's Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, welcomed a UN Security Council resolution last week condemning the North's tests. They also agreed to use the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) talks in Kuala Lumpur on July 28 to help bring North Korea back to the six-nation talks, the statement said. "The ARF stage will be actively utilised to discuss the future process," it said.

The ARF is a 12-year-old annual forum on security in the Asia-Pacific region that was initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It now involves foreign ministers from 25 countries, including the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia -- all members of the six-party nuclear talks. North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun is due to attend the ARF. The six-way Korean nuclear talks have been stalled since November when Washington rejected Pyongyang's demand for the lifting of US sanctions on a Macau bank accused of money-laundering on the North's behalf. Washington and Seoul have showed interest in holding five-nation talks with Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow. Chun told reporters after meeting Sasae that a five-nation formula was "one option that is being considered but the goal at the moment is to hold six-party talks." Sasae said that the ARF would be a "good opportunity to deal with the North Korean problem." "But it is still premature to say whether or not North Korea will return to the six-nation talks," he said. sps/sct/th