News / Asia

North, South Korea Hold Talks at ASEAN Conference

East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers pose for a photo before their meeting in Bali, Indonesia, July 22, 2011.
East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers pose for a photo before their meeting in Bali, Indonesia, July 22, 2011.

Diplomats from North and South Korea have met on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Bali to discuss resuming six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. This is the first such high-level contact since the talks stalled in 2008.

ASEAN chairman and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said facilitating Friday's meeting between North and South Korean officials was one of his objectives for the regional security forum.

“The fact that the two Koreas met at official levels and the senior official level should not be underestimated, its importance. Because if we try, we can create fresh momentum for peaceful resolution and addressing all the matter on the Korean peninsula," he said.

North Korea walked out of six-party negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program in 2008 to protest international criticism of its missile and nuclear tests. Relations with South Korea have been tense ever since.

Foreign ministers from all six countries involved in the negotiations, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea, are attending the ASEAN conference in Bali, raising expectations that informal talks could take place.

Pyongyang, which badly needs humanitarian and economic aid has indicated in recent months that it might be ready to return to the negotiations.

South Korea's Wi Sung-lac.
South Korea's Wi Sung-lac.
South Korea has been reluctant to do so until the North apologizes for two military incidents last year that left 50 South Koreans dead, which Pyongyang has refused to do.

Seoul's chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac said his meeting with North Korea's nuclear envoy Ri Yong Ho was "very constructive."

The South's Yonhap news agency quoted Ri Yong Ho as saying they had agreed to work together to resume the stalled talks.

North Korea's Ri Yong Ho.
North Korea's Ri Yong Ho.
Natalegawa says Friday's meeting is a step in the right direction.

He also says ASEAN and China's agreement on guidelines for developing a code of conduct to settle disputes in the South China Sea is a step toward peacefully resolving another potential conflict.

China, Taiwan the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia hold conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves. Some ASEAN members complain the guidelines do not directly focus on the disputed areas, but Natalegawa says they are something to build on.

“As I said before these guidelines are not a pancea, not like a solution to all problems in the South China Sea," he said. "But it is far better to have it than not to have it, if not only because of the content, but what it symbolizes. It symbolizes, irrespective of the content, that China and ASEAN can get things done.”

The U.S. has expressed support for the guidelines and ASEAN's efforts to address regional problems through negotiations and compromise. Washington says that freedom of shipping in the South China Sea is one of its national interests.

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