NKorea, Myanmar loom large over Asia-Europe meet

26th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Ministers had just begun a series of bilateral meetings in Hanoi as news of North Korea's latest nuclear test emerged.

Hanoi -- Foreign ministers from Asia and Europe began two days of meetings Monday under the shadow of a North Korean nuclear test and the trial in Myanmar of opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The two hottest subjects on the agenda are these two problems," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating European Union (EU) presidency.

Both matters were expected to come up for discussion Monday evening when delegates to the ASEM (Asia-Europe) Foreign Ministers' Meeting held a working dinner, Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama told reporters.

Ministers had just begun a series of bilateral meetings in Hanoi as news of North Korea's latest nuclear test emerged.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and his South Korean counterpart Yu Myung-Hwan, who met on the conference sidelines, agreed to work closely with the US and China to forge a response to North Korea's test, Kodama told reporters.

"The foreign minister believes that this nuclear testing certainly will heighten the danger for security in Northeast Asia" and the entire world, Kodama said.

He said there was "an emerging consensus" that the ASEM meeting, which concludes Tuesday, should issue a separate statement on the North Korean issue.

"This ASEM foreign ministers' meeting will definitely pick up this matter," he said.

Other delegates agreed ASEM, which placed the global financial crisis at the top of its agenda, would have to discuss North Korea.

"It will come up during the discussion now," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bild, adding that the EU has asked for the issue to be mentioned in the ASEM communiqué.

After arriving in Hanoi, EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, "We can only condemn this test... We'll have to discuss it."

British junior foreign minister Bill Rammell earlier called North Korea's announced nuclear test a "clear breach" of UN Security Council resolutions and urged the country to return to disarmament talks.

He also urged ASEM to issue a "very strong statement" about Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest and ongoing trial.

She faces up to five years in jail on charges of violating her house arrest after an incident in which an American man swam to her house.

The EU on Monday called for the immediate release of the Nobel peace laureate, Kohout said. The message was conveyed to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting.

Nakasone, of Japan, expressed "concern" over the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi during a separate meeting with Nyan Win, Kodama said.

He said he hoped the wording in a chairman's statement at the close of the Hanoi meeting would be similar to the United Nations Security Council proclamation issued Friday.

The Council renewed calls for the release of political prisoners in Myanmar and for talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, but stopped short of urging a halt to her trial.

In a rare move, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week issued an expression of "grave concern" over the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbours traditionally prefer not to be seen as intervening in the affairs of their members.

Myanmar's junta on Monday accused neighbouring Thailand, which issued the ASEAN statement in its capacity as the bloc's chairman, of meddling in Myanmar's domestic politics, state media reported.

In an opening address to the meeting, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the world was dealing with not only a global financial crisis, but also climate change, the threat of pandemic disease, terrorism and other challenges.

"In this context we should coordinate our actions to overcome this difficult time," he said.

The ASEM meeting groups foreign ministers or their deputies from the European Union, the 10-nation ASEAN, China, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan and India.

Ian Timberlake/AFP/Expatica

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