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Rice in Asia, Addresses Major International Security Issues


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has assured Asia's top diplomats that the United States will continue working for a lasting resolution to the Middle East crisis. But the possibility of action on another pressing security issue, North Korea's nuclear weapons, seems to be fading.

The U.S. secretary of state says she is willing to return to the Middle East if her presence will help end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

"I am willing and ready to go back to the Middle East at any time if I think we can move to a sustainable cease-fire that can end the violence," said Ms. Rice.

Rice had visited Lebanon and Israel before flying here to the Malaysian capital for the annual ASEAN Regional Forum. Asian foreign ministers have expressed concern over the rising death and destruction in Lebanon.

In a joint statement Thursday, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their 10 dialogue partners, including the United States, Japan, China and Russia, called for all parties to work towards a just, durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

A crisis conference in Rome Wednesday failed to agree on a plan to end the fighting. Rice refrained here from calling for an immediate cease-fire unless there a durable peace can be achieved.

The Kuala Lumpur statement also called for the resolution of another international security problem, North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. That issue was given added urgency earlier this month when Pyongyang test-fired seven missiles.

The meeting's chairman, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, says the ministers strongly urged North Korea - also known as DPRK - to refrain from any action that might aggravate tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"The meetings supported the early resumption of the six-party talks and the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue in a peaceful manner," he said.

North Korea has been boycotting six nations talks on its weapons programs since November. It says it will not rejoin the talks until Washington lifts economic sanctions it imposed to curb alleged counterfeiting and money laundering by Pyongyang.

The dignitaries attending the ASEAN forum include the foreign ministers of all six nations involved in the nuclear talks: the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, South and North Korea. Diplomats had hoped to get all six together for informal talks on the sidelines of the forum, which concludes Friday.

But a North Korean spokesman on Thursday said there would be no such six-party meeting, and the U.S. envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, told reporters the United States had no intention of meeting the North one-on-one. Instead, he said, a broader group composed of the remaining five nations to the talks, plus Malaysia, Australia and Canada, will meet Friday to discuss the issue.

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