PostHeaderIcon Rice at Asian Forum Amid NKorea Standoff

Rice said en route to Kuala Lumpur from a failed Middle East peace conference in Rome that she did not anticipate any resumption here of the six-nation talks that have been on ice since November. Her North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun, was due here later Thursday, with no indication that he would respond to diplomatic efforts to get the communist country to the negotiating table. "I don't anticipate any six-party talks," she told reporters aboard her plane. Top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said the other five countries involved -- South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia -- were willing to take part but the North was "lost on the way." "We tried to invite the DPRK to come to a six-party meeting and they showed no interest and I think we therefore are unfortunately not going to be able to have any kind of six-party meeting here," Hill told reporters, referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. However, China remained optimistic that its high-profile campaign to bring North Korea back to the meeting table still had a chance of success. "We very much hope that North Korea will participate," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. North Korea, which has already dominated an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting this week, walked out of the three-year-old talks last year in protest over US financial sanctions. Pyongyang provoked further outrage as well as condemnation by the UN Security Council when it test-fired seven missiles on July 5 that splashed into the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Rice has said that while in Malaysia she would follow up on the North Korea issue with the other participants in the six-way talks. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also due in Kuala Lumpur along with the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Police said snipers, sniffer dogs and hundreds of police were in place around the conference venue next to Kuala Lumpur's iconic Petronas towers. The South Korean, Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers joined forces Wednesday and Thursday to breathe life into the nuclear talks, despite underlying bilateral tensions. "The two most important things for us are that North Korea should not take extra measures to worsen the situation and also that the six-way nuclear talks should resume as soon as possible," officials quoted South Korean foreign minister and potential future UN chief Ban Ki-Moon as saying. The Asian powers and the United States have been considering other ways to tackle the issue, although they have disagreed about going ahead without North Korea, with both China and South Korea opposing such a move. US envoy Hill suggested that the talks could be broadened to include other countries, following a South Korean suggestion for multilateral talks also including Malaysia, Australia and Canada. "We are hoping to have a broader discussion on security in Northeast Asia," he said. China, North Korea's major ally, warned late Wednesday it was "seriously concerned" about the situation on the Korean peninsula. Earlier it had said that Friday was pencilled in as a potential date for the talks. Pyongyang dramatically upped the stakes this week, branding Rice a "political imbecile" in retaliation for her description of the missile launches as "completely irresponsible" and "dangerous." Meanwhile the US Secretary of State will face renewed pressure on the Middle East in Asia even as she canvasses support for US positions on North Korea, Myanmar and Iran's nuclear ambitions. Asian ministers have condemned Tuesday's Israeli air strike on a United Nations post in southern Lebanon, which killed four UN observers, and said they would raise the issue with Rice. bur-dk/sls/mc