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North Korea Signs On to Southeast Asia 'Amity' Pact


North Korea has signed what amounts to a nonaggression treaty with 24 nations. The signing took place on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian regional forum in Singapore. Observers are calling the move an important symbolic step for the isolated North's foreign policy. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

North Korea's foreign minister signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation - often called the TAC - at the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian nations regional security forum, Thursday in Singapore.

The deal was drafted in 1976, and has been signed by all of ASEAN's ten members, plus 14 other nations including South Korea, with whom North Korea has never formally concluded its 1950s war.

Alan Chong, a political science expert at the National University of Singapore, says the TAC is very general, but sets a framework for peace.

"It has been morally binding in a positive way rather than legally binding. It is a diplomatic device that commits signatories to this notion of a minimal peaceful coexistence, you know, 'Don't resort to the use of arms and other physical hostile measures the moment you have international disputes,'" said Chong.

Chong says North's Korea's move is an important step away from its pariah status.

"The signing of this can be seen as the attempt to distinguish North Korea from the other so-called rogue states of the world," he added.

Professor Purnendra Jain is head of Asian Studies at Australia's Adelaide University. He agrees that North Korea is making an overture to the international community.

"This makes North Korea a little bit more, kind of, responsible actor than what it has done before. So, it's a good gesture on the part of North Korea," said Jain.

Asian analysts say ASEAN benefits from getting North Korea on board the treaty. They call it an enhancement of ASEAN's regional leadership, which in turn may speed along the vision of an East Asian economic community, roughly along the lines of the European Union.

Signing the TAC puts North Korea a step closer to joining ASEAN's East Asia Summit, an annual gathering that could foster cultural, scientific and economic exchanges for the impoverished North.

Professor Jain says it may also give ASEAN some small measure of influence in how North Korea treats its citizens.

"Once North Korea has acceded to TAC, perhaps there will be room for ASEAN nation-states to raise the question of human rights," added Jain.

Analysts say deepening North Korea's ties with ASEAN may also raise the volume of international voices calling for Pyongyang to get rid of its nuclear weapons.

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