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ASEAN Ministers: Korean Peninsula Should be Free of Nuclear Weapons - 2003-06-18

Foreign ministers from Asia, Europe and North America say the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons and are calling for more negotiations to end the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program. The call came during a meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he believes a diplomatic solution to end North Korea's nuclear program is still possible but warns the situation is dangerous. Mr. Powell made the remarks at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Phnom Penh on Pacific Rim security issues.

The ASEAN Regional Forum brings together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with 13 partner countries, including the United States, Australia, and Russia.

All the regional powers agree the nuclear threat from North Korea must be solved through dialogue. China's Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue says the best way is to continue talks between China, North Korea and the United States that were launched in April in Beijing.

"We hope that the process will continue," says Ms. Zhang. "We feel that that has been a useful mechanism and all sides have encouraged that process to continue. And we are trying our best to bring about another round of talks."

Chances for this to be arranged are slim as North Korea's foreign minister decided not to attend the meeting at the last minute and sent a lower level official instead. Delegates expressed disappointment, calling it a missed opportunity to defuse the situation.

North Korea has resisted multilateral talks - insisting it wants one-on-one talks with the United States and security guarantees before discussing its nuclear ambitions. Washington says this is a regional security concern and should be handled in a wider forum.

Eight months of diplomatic efforts to date have failed to resolve the standoff. During this time North Korea has taken more steps toward becoming a nuclear power - in violation of several international agreements it has signed.

Meanwhile on Burma, the U.S. and Japanese foreign ministers called for the quick release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained by the military government since her supporters clashed with pro-government groups three weeks ago.

The United States and the European Union, which is also represented at the Forum, say they will tighten sanctions against Burmese officials. Japan is considering cutting off its multimillion dollar aid program.

Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung says the Nobel Peace Prize winner is in custody for her own protection because of a plot against her life. He says she and dozens of her supporters who are also in detention, will be released as soon as the situation is stabilized.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won elections 13 years ago in Burma, but was blocked from taking power by the military government. Burma has since been slapped with a variety of sanctions.