Accessibility links

Asian Leaders Ponder Next Step in North Korea Nuclear Dispute

  • Kurt Achin

Asian leaders are pondering their next move after North Korea's announcement Thursday it would indefinitely suspend multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons program. The focus remains firmly on peaceful means to resolve the dispute.

Leaders in Asia are downplaying Pyongyang's declaration Thursday that it sees no justification for returning to six-nation talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear programs.

They say despite the announcement, they remain committed to persuading North Korea to resume dialogue with the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.

Diplomatic consultations on possible next moves have already begun. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is in Washington.

"We will consult on this matter closely with the United States government and other friendly countries, particularly the countries participating in the six- party talks process," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Friday - summing up the general response of negotiating nations - told reporters North Korea will be asked to return to the talks.

Mr. Koizumi says Japan will continue to try to make North Korea understand dismantling its nuclear weapons program is in its best interest.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says it is important not to over react as Pyongyang may have simply suspended its participation in the talks to strengthen its negotiating position.

"You can't always take everything they say at face value… it may very well be a prelude to a further negotiation, and we hope that's what it is," he said.

Mr. Downer points out China - which hosted the first three rounds of talks - has the most leverage over North Korea, because it provides half of Pyongyang's financial aid, and about 80 percent of its energy.

Peter Beck, of the International Crisis Group in Seoul, says Beijing is very likely to use that leverage in the coming weeks.

"Beijing will be bringing North Korea back to the table - twisting their arm, if you will, one way or the other," he said.

North Korea in the past has publicly rejected talks, and then reversed that decision. It repeatedly blames what it calls U.S. hostility for failed negotiations - this time pegging it to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's description of North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny."

Washington has consistently said it has no plans to attack and will consider aid for North Korea if it dismantles all its nuclear programs, which are in violation of numerous international agreements.

Thursday North Korea said it had actually developed nuclear weapons and plans to keep them as a deterrent. It it not known to have conducted a nuclear test.