They would not put it in writing, but the Pacific Rim’s often-divergent leaders joined together Sunday to say they worry about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to urge the reclusive country to resume disarmament negotiations.
The verbal statement capped five days of diplomatic discussions in the aftermath of the North’s first nuclear test on Oct. 9, which raised concerns about proliferation in the region. But the method of delivery provided a curious culmination to the issue that overshadowed the economic topics that are the core of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s mission.
Even some of the participants were unsure why the statement was not issued in written form, just orally at the end of the two-day leaders’ summit and by Vietnam’s president at a news conference after reporters asked him about it.
“We are seeking an explanation for that,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. “We don’t understand why it wasn’t included since it was a joint statement and it was unanimous.”
David McCormick, an official with the U.S. National Security Council, denied that getting only an oral statement from the summit represented a setback, and said the White House was pleased with the toughness of the wording.
“The statement was very firm in the need for full implementation” of U.N. resolutions on North Korea, McCormick said. “What was important was that the members of APEC came together on a common statement.”
The statement urged North Korea to take concrete steps to live up to earlier commitments to stop developing atomic bombs.
“We express our strong concern over the July 4-5 missile launches and Oct. 9 nuclear test conducted by (North Korea), which poses a clear threat to our shared interest of peace and security and our shared goal of achieving a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula,” it said.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper on Sunday accused South Korea of building up arms in order to attack the country.
“The South Korean military is openly clamoring that the development and introduction of new weapons are to target the North,” the paper said, according to the country’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Confrontation with fellow countrymen is a suicidal act of digging their own graves. War knows no mercy.”
Pyongyang accused South Korea of conspiring with the United States to attack the isolated and impoverished state, an accusation made frequently by the North and routinely denied by the U.S.
It appeared that some APEC members, worried about how security and political issues have increasingly impinged on the group’s economic focus, felt that the U.N. and other forums are more appropriate for a written statement.
And while North Korea is not an APEC member, some countries are sensitive to the issue of interfering in other nations’ affairs.
APEC provided a chance for the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to try to work out a unified strategy as they prepare to resume nuclear negotiations with the North a year after it walked out. The talks could resume as early as next month.
President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao met Sunday and agreed that “North Korea should get the message that possessing a nuclear bomb will not have the support of the international community, but rather will meet opposition,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
While virtually everyone agrees that North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile tests could lead down a dangerous path to further proliferation, differences remain on the best strategy for dealing with the North, which has used brinksmanship to gain aid and security guarantees.
“I don’t think North Korea would want to give up something they regard as something precious to them, something that gives them a certain pride and position,” Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.
“These are realities that we cannot deny, but if we can give them hope of something else they can get ... maybe it could pave a way to come up with a solution, but it’s going to be very difficult.”
It appeared that the U.S. did manage to get one North Korea-related addition in the summit’s final written declaration which appeared to endorse the financial sanctions that Washington imposed on the North over alleged currency counterfeiting and money laundering. The sanctions sparked North Korea’s boycott of the six-party talks.