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July 23, 08

NEWS / Burma, North Korea Top Southeast Asian Security Agenda

Rice travels to Singapore for ASEAN Forum, Six-Party Talks

By David I. McKeeby
Staff Writer

Washington -- Against a backdrop of growing regional political and economic cooperation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the challenges of Burma and North Korea as she meets with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) July 23-24 in Singapore.

“We certainly hope that [ASEAN] will continue to encourage the Burmese to open up and to begin to grapple with their broader political issues because it’s the broader political issues that are keeping the country down,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Marciel.

Marciel, who serves as both U.S. ambassador to ASEAN and deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, previewed Rice’s trip in a July 17 briefing.

Burma is a member of the 10-nation regional bloc, which Marciel credited for helping convince Burma’s ruling military junta to accept international aid and relief workers following Cyclone Nargis, the deadly May storm that killed more than 78,000 people along the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma. The United States has delivered more than $40 million in aid to the people of Burma.

Rice will meet with ASEAN ministers July 23 to take stock of U.S.-ASEAN cooperation on regional issues, Marciel said, including Burma’s cyclone recovery and further steps to encourage its return to democracy. Rice also will discuss ongoing health and environmental projects, trade and energy issues, food security and U.S. support for ASEAN’s goal of establishing a common economic community by 2015.

Rice also will take part in the July 24 ASEAN Regional Forum, a 26-nation group on security issues in the broader Asia-Pacific region. Marciel said discussions there would include North Korea, nuclear proliferation and a proposed international disaster response exercise intended to build on the lessons learned in the response to Cyclone Nargis.

“The secretary’s participation in these meetings is based on our long history of cooperation with the region and our current program of extensive cooperation with ASEAN,” Marciel said. “The importance of our cooperation with this region reflects the extensive ties between our governments, businesses, private organizations, educational institutions, families and individuals.”


While in Singapore, Rice will meet for the first time with North Korea’s foreign minister, Pak Ui Chun, along with their counterparts from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea for informal discussions to assess progress on the Six-Party Talks to eliminate nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula.

The high-level meeting comes in the wake of three steps forward in the effort to stabilize the Korean Peninsula: North Korea’s long-delayed declaration of its past nuclear activities, the demolition of the main cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, and North Korea’s agreement to allow on-site inspections by Six-Party representatives to verify its declaration and the disabling of its plutonium-producing facilities by the end of October.

Rice played down the meeting in a July 21 press appearance en route to Singapore, but acknowledged that it would send “a very strong message” about the importance of fully verifying North Korea’s nuclear claims -- as well as getting answers about other elements of North Korea’s nuclear weapons research, such as an alleged covert uranium-enrichment program.

“I wouldn’t call it either historic or monumental,” Rice said, later adding, “on the other hand … we want to look forward.”

If the declaration can be fully verified, Six-Party Talks envoys will move the process toward its third and final stage: full dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure.

From Singapore, Rice will travel to Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Thailand.

Source: http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2008/July/20080721153241idybeekcm0.4118463.html

Tags: secretary of state,


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