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Asian Ministers, EU, US Agree on Need for Political Reform in Burma - 2004-07-01

Asian foreign ministers and their European and U.S. counterparts say they agree on the need for political reform in Burma and a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula. But they have expressed differences over how to achieve these objectives. The developments follow a meeting in Jakarta hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

Foreign ministers from Asia and Western nations sought to downplay their differences over several regional issues as they ended a meeting of the Asia Regional Forum.

The European Unions' external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, said the EU shares ASEAN's aspirations for political change in Burma and the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. But he said he was worried about stability in Burma and the region, if this does not occur.

"I don't think our objective is very different from that of our friends and colleagues in ASEAN and beyond in Asia, though I do think we disagree about the best tactics for achieving those objectives," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since a crackdown by the military government on her National League for Democracy more than a year ago. Although most of the NLD's leaders have been released, they have not been included in a national convention to draft a constitution.

The EU says a session later this year of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, may be scrapped, if Burma does not free Aung San Suu Kyi. European delegates in Jakarta also expressed disappointment that the ASEAN foreign ministers did not press harder for political changes in Burma. The ASEAN delegates say the national convention is a step in the right direction that should be encouraged.

There was little indication of progress on the issue of North Korea's nuclear programs, one week after talks involving the United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that all members of these six-party talks want a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula, but he said the U.S. offer to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang was contingent on concrete steps to dismantle all of its nuclear weapons programs.

"In the early phases of this plan that we put forward, as we follow the principle of word-for word, deed-for-deed, we have to see deeds, before we are prepared to put something on the table," said Colin Powell.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, who is also in Jakarta, reportedly said the United States needs to establish more trust in order for the talks to make progress.

Mr. Powell indicated that a meeting with the North Korean foreign minister has not been finalized, but noted that various bilateral meetings on Friday still present possibilities for additional diplomacy.