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Lebanon, North Korea Dominate Asia Security Talks

Lebanon and North Korea dominated talks among senior diplomats from more than 20 Asian and Western countries at a regional security forum in Kuala Lumpur. The forum failed to help break the stalemate on the North Korean nuclear issue, and it highlighted differences between the United States and other nations on how to deal with the Middle East crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reassured the senior diplomats at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum Friday that Washington will work toward a lasting peace in the Middle East.

"We hope to achieve an early end to this violence," she said.

But other nations at the forum called on the U.S. to support an immediate and unconditional cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

North Korea's foreign minister, meanwhile, refused invitations by China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States to join in an informal gathering of the nations involved in talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the forum that even one day is too long without a cease-fire in the Middle East.

"We cannot just expect a long-term solution to be found, while the humanitarian dimension in Lebanon, and also in Palestine, is being ignored," he said. "There is a need for peace, but there's a more urgent need for an immediate cease-fire."

On the sidelines of the forum, the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia met with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to add a Muslim voice to concerns about the violence.

Iran is a major supporter of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, both of which are involved in military exchanges with Israel.

Hamid says he conveyed a message to Rice from the five nations -- a cease-fire first, and then work toward a lasting peace.

He expressed concern about building anger in the Muslim world over Israel's actions.

"We do not want the situation to escalate and that the anger is transmitted to all Muslim countries," he noted.

Malaysia also called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference executive committee next week in Kuala Lumpur.

The forum expressed its concern about North Korea's recent test launch of seven missiles, which added to already existing worries about the country's nuclear weapons programs.

When North Korea refused to participate in talks about its weapons systems, the talks went on without it. Secretary Rice and the foreign ministers of China, South Korea, Japan and Russia met with officials of Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada and Malaysia to discuss the issue.

Secretary Rice again called on Pyongyang to return to the negotiations.

"I want to reiterate that the United States remains ready at any time, at any time, and without any conditions, to engage in those discussions," she said.

The North Korean delegation repeated that it would not return to the nuclear talks, until economic sanctions imposed on the country by the United States are lifted.