Foreign ministers from around the world have begun discussions in Manila on establishing a nuclear safety watchdog for the Asian region. The discussions are taking place in advance of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, where VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins compiled this report.

The ASEAN Regional Forum groups the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with 17 others, including the European Union, the United States, China and Russia.

Foreign ministers from these nations began discussions here Wednesday on establishing an agency to ensure that nuclear reactors in the region are not used to produce nuclear weapons.

ASEAN is hosting the talks. It says it plans to work more closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency, to improve its ability to strengthen nuclear safeguards.

ASEAN has already welcomed the shutdown of North Korea's major nuclear reactor last month. North Korea says that reactor has been used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and last year the North Koreans carried out their first nuclear weapons test.

John Negroponte, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and a former ambassador to Manila, assured ASEAN leaders the U.S. was deeply committed to the region, and commended its leaders for their work.

"We note the significance of the statement of ASEAN leaders on their shared vision to achieve peace, stability, democracy, and prosperity in the region. Also to strengthen democratic values, good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and freedoms." said Negroponte.

ASEAN is in the process of drafting a charter that will formally define and regulate the group. ASEAN members reached a consensus Monday to establish a regional human rights body, over the objections of Burma, whose human rights record has been criticized by many countries.

The humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region was also raised during Wednesday's meetings. This followed Tuesday's resolution by the U.N. Security Council to send 26,000 troops and police to the region, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced.

China, which is represented here, was among those voting for the U.N. peacekeeping package. Beijing has previously been criticized for doing too little to help end the Darfur crisis, despite the country's close ties to the Sudanese government.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for the troops in Darfur to be backed up with increased efforts to end the bloodshed.