US tells North Korea to do more to restart talks
BALI, Indonesia - Tentative steps by North and South Korea to repair relations are not enough to warrant renewed multination nuclear disarmament talks, the United States said yesterday at an Asian security conference where it also took a tough line on resolving tensions in the South China Sea.
Declaring the United States a “resident power’’ with vital strategic interests throughout the Asia-Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said North Korea must do more to improve ties with the South before Washington will consider resuming talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons in return for concessions.
In addition, Clinton laid out specific guidelines for the peaceful settlement of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying recent threats and flare-ups are endangering the security that has driven the region’s economic growth and prosperity.
The ASEAN Regional Forum that brought together 27 nations from North America, Asia, and Europe opened with a buzz early yesterday, with South Korea’s foreign minister, Kim Sung Hwan, and his North counterpart, Pak Ui Chun, chatting and walking casually into the conference hall together.
A day before, their top nuclear negotiators met for the first time since disarmament talks collapsed in 2008 when Pyongyang walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.
By reopening dialogue, they paved the way for the potential return, eventually, to efforts by the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia to end the crisis.
Clinton told diplomats she was encouraged at the signs of progress.
“But we remain firm that in order for six-party talks to resume, North Korea must take steps to improve North-South relations,’’ she said. “North Korea continues to present a critical proliferation challenge to the international community and to threaten regional stability with its provocative actions.’’
Since the last round of talks, North Korea has conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make atomic bombs. Recent threats against Seoul’s conservative government include a vow to retaliate over soldiers’ use of pictures of the ruling North Korean family for target practice.
Before yesterday’s conference, China and its Southeast Asian neighbors agreed to a preliminary plan to resolve territorial disputes in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.
China says it has historical claims to the entire, potentially resource-rich sea - of tremendous strategic importance to everyone, including Washington, because one-third of the world’s shipping transits through it.
It is believed to have vast oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed and is teeming with fish.
The loudest protests have come from the Philippines and Vietnam, saying increasingly assertive Chinese ships have interfered with their oil exploration efforts or bullied crews, something Beijing denies. Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei have also laid claim to overlapping areas.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Philippines said there have been at least seven aggressive intrusions this year in waters that were 85 nautical miles from the nearest island in his country and 600 nautical miles from China’s coast.
“If Philippine sovereign rights can be denigrated’’ by China’s baseless historical claims to the South China Sea, he said, “many countries should begin to contemplate the potential threat to navigation.’’
A Chinese spokesman for the delegation, Liu Weimin, told the meeting the allegations were groundless, according to Xinhua news agency.