Southeast Asian nations and 13 other countries in the Pacific Rim have pledged to construct an anti-terror financial network, aimed at cutting off the money that funds extremist attacks. But fighting terrorism was not the only issue topping the agenda at the ASEAN regional security forum in Brunei.
Eager to counter perceptions that Southeast Asia is a breeding ground for Muslim extremists, foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) joined 13 of their security partners in agreeing to a range of measures to block terrorist financing.
Included in the plans is the construction of a financial intelligence unit, which requires each nation to trace the sources of terrorist financing. The countries also have agreed to immediately freeze terrorists' assets and to coordinate efforts against money laundering.
Countries that lack the money and infrastructure to comply will receive technical assistance from richer partners.
The financial agreement foreshadows another, more sweeping anti-terrorism pact to be signed on Thursday, when Secretary of State Colin Powell meets ASEAN foreign ministers. That pact focuses on ASEAN's pledge to deepen its anti-terrorism cooperation with the United States, despite concerns that the move could create domestic political problems for countries with significant Muslim populations.
The U.S. led war on terrorism had been expected to be the focus of this year's ASEAN-sponsored security forum. But Secretary Powell's 15 minute, unscheduled meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun shifted some of the forum's attention to efforts to ease tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.
The meeting followed several days of conciliatory talk and gestures from Pyongyang. But Secretary Powell told his North Korean counterpart that dialogue would have to emphasize several outstanding issues, including Pyongyang's pledge to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons programs. President Bush earlier this year accused North Korea of seeking weapons of mass destruction, calling the communist nation an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq.
Shortly after the meeting, North Korea showed its unpredictability, denouncing the United States as being the "kingpin of evil."
But Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told reporters that China believes Pyongyang's offer to resume talks is genuine.
He said the ball is in the U.S. court and it is now up to the Americans to decide whether to engage North Korea.
The security forum ends Wednesday, but bilateral meetings will continue through Thursday.