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Asian Regional Forum to Discuss Proposal on North Korea - 2003-06-17

Leaders from 23 countries are planning to discuss a new Philippine proposal to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue on Wednesday, when the Asia Regional Forum opens in Phnom Penh.

Philippine Foreign Minister Blas Ople submitted Manila's North Korea proposal at the final session of the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting.

The proposal demands from Pyongyang "the verifiable and irreversible elimination" of its nuclear weapons program.

In return, North Korea would get a security guarantee from five nations: the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. It also promises normalized economic relations and an economic aid package.

Members of the larger Asia Regional Forum will discuss the proposal Wednesday. The organization comprises ASEAN's 10 member nations, along with 13 other countries from the wider Asia Pacific region.

The likelihood of unanimous support for the proposal is low.

The United States has consistently ruled out any quid pro quo negotiations with North Korea. Washington said the burden falls on Pyongyang to verifiably end its nuclear weapons program before talk of economic aid.

North Korea admitted publicly recently it was seeking nuclear weapons as a deterrent to what it calls a "hostile policy" on the part of the United States. It demands bilateral talks with the United States as a step towards a non-aggression treaty.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang issued a harsh response to what it said are plans by the United States and its allies to isolate North Korea with a naval blockade.

North Korea's official party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, warned such a move could lead to an "all-out war," which "will immediately spill over into Japan."

The United States says there are no plans for a blockade, but it is seeking ways to police North Korean shipping. It accuses Pyongyang of smuggling narcotics, counterfeit money, and weapons components to prop up its defunct economy.

Ken Wells is the Director for Korean Studies at Australia's National University. He warned the United States and its allies should not brush off Pyongyang's threats as irrational.

"From the North Korean political point of view, and from the point of view of the survival of the present North Korean regime, which is their main objective, the negotiating strategy is not necessarily irrational," Mr. Wells said.

In a sign of North Korea's growing isolation, Pyongyang will not be sending its foreign minister to the Asia Regional Forum on Wednesday. It is sending a lower-ranking official instead.