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ASEAN Ministers Discuss Cooperation and Security

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are meeting with regional dialogue partners in Thailand to discuss challenges and cooperation. North Korea's nuclear programs and Burma's military government were high on the agenda. But neither country showed signs of flexibility.

ASEAN's 10 foreign ministers held a series of meetings with counterparts from countries holding stakes in the region, including the United States.

The regional body met first with foreign ministers from China, Japan, and South Korea.

The so-called "ASEAN plus three" discussed issues ranging from food security and the economy to terrorism, Burma's lack of democracy, and North Korea's nuclear programs.

Kazuo Kodama is a spokesman for Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone. He told journalists that Japan and China also held a bilateral meeting and agreed to keep the doors for dialogue open to North Korea, also known as the DPRK.

"But, at same time, of course, also, both Japan and China cannot tolerate DPRK becoming a nuclear-weapons state," Kodama said. "Nor a DPRK developing a ballistic-missile technology. Both of which pose a grave threat to the security and stability in the region."

Thailand had hoped to arrange a six-nation meeting on North Korea's nuclear programs that would include representatives from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

But, there was little information about who the North Koreans at the meeting met with other than Thai officials, who they asked to protect them from criticism.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told journalists he shared concerns about reports of military cooperation between Burma and North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had earlier said such an alliance would pose a threat to the region.

Smith said he was also seeking a bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiech to discuss the detention of an Australian executive for mining giant Rio Tinto, who is being held in China on suspicion of espionage.

"I hope to have the opportunity of speaking to Foreign Minister Yang about this matter in the next day or so, but more importantly, officials continue to liaise about this matter and, as I have said on a number of occasions in Australia, I very much suspect that this is matter in which we are in for the long haul," Smith said.

The Japanese foreign minister's spokesman, Kodama, said the minister also met with his Burmese counterpart and urged the military government to listen to the international community's wishes.

Burma is under intense pressure to release political prisoners and allow for democracy.

But he said Burma maintained its position. In an ASEAN joint communiqué Monday, Burma indicated the international community should back off. It said pressure from the outside is hampering its moves towards democracy.