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US and North Korea Trade Sharp Barbs at ASEAN Meeting


North Korea and the United States exchanged harsh criticism Thursday at the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum on Thailand's Phuket island. Most of the discussions focused on the security situation on the Korean peninsula and Pyongyang's efforts to build up its nuclear weapons program.

Foreign ministers from mostly Southeast Asian and other Pacific-region nations ended their meetings in Thailand with smiles as they posed for pictures.

Earlier the leaders from 27 nations did not come away with what they had hoped for: a commitment from North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program and return to six-party talks with the US, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

North Korean delegate Ri Hung-sik told reporters at the forum his government was not against having a dialogue but he said "how can you have a dialogue with a knife at your back". "Until America's deep-rooted anti-North Korea attitude is solved, the problems will continue. Because of that, the Six-Party Talks are also over," he said.

During the ASEAN forum the United States and other countries agreed on a package of incentives, including economic and energy aid, which could be offered to North Korea.

But in a harsh criticism of Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the regime "had no friends left" to protect it from international efforts to end its nuclear program.

She also expressed disappointment in comments by the North Korean delegation who attended the forum.

"Unfortunately, the North Korean delegation offered only an insistent refusal to recognize that North Korea has been on the wrong course. In their presentation today, they evinced no willingness to pursue the path of de-nuclearization and that was troubling not only to the United States, but to the region and the international community," Clinton said.

The meeting began with the hopes that North Korea would re-enter six-party talks on ending its nuclear program. North Korea dropped out of the six-party talks after the UN censured its long-range missile test in April.

Thailand's foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, said ASEAN as a regional bloc will continue to play a role in the North Korean nuclear disarmament efforts.

"The goal is to bring about peace and stability to the Korean peninsula and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So we urge the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to return to the Six Party Talks, look beyond the past and join others in finding the way forward," Piromya said.

Despite the request, North Korean officials told reporters there would be no prospect of resumption of the talks unless the United States ends what it termed as its anti-North Korean attitude. Meanwhile ASEAN leaders also pledged to support the implementation of recent United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.

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