APEC calls for North Korea to give up nukes, vows to salvage world trade talks

Sunday, November 19th 2006, 2:50 pm
By: News On 6

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) Eager to set the stage for further economic growth, Pacific Rim leaders on Sunday demanded a fresh start for moribund global free-trade talks and condemned terrorism and other threats to security.

The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, including regional powerhouses Japan, China and the United States, also criticized North Korea for its recent atomic test, urging the reclusive regime to make ``concrete and effective'' steps toward nuclear disarmament.

The conference of nations comprising more than half the world's economy was also a bazaar for business deals: host Vietnam parlayed its robust growth into multimillion-dollar contracts, while the U.S. and Russia signed a pact allowing Moscow's future entry into the World Trade Organization.

A top economic priority for the forum, attended by world leaders including President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao, was the resurrection of the stalled Doha round of world trade talks, which collapsed in July over a U.S.-European feud on agricultural subsidies.

The leaders issued a joint declaration warning of ``grave'' consequences if the talks, aimed at slashing trade barriers in order to boost global growth and alleviate poverty, fail. Bush's authority to submit a deal to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote will expire July 1.

``We should, therefore, spare no efforts to break the current deadlocks and achieve an ambitious and overall balanced outcome,'' said the group, which accounts for some 45 percent of world trade and 41 percent of its population.

The pressure could have some effect. Spurred by exhortations from APEC trade and foreign ministers earlier this week, the WTO's 149 members met Thursday in Geneva to discuss the possibility of resuming negotiations.

APEC also pledged to fight terrorism, unconventional weapons and other security threats that jeopardize the region's stunning economic growth.

``We are determined to continue efforts to combat terrorism in every form and manifestation,'' the leaders said.

The declaration included no mention of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has dominated proceedings in Hanoi all week.

Instead, the group verbally issued a call for North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons, underscoring sensitivities over the issue and concerns by some APEC nations about interfering in other countries' affairs.

It first was read to the group privately, and was only released publicly when Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet was pressed by reporters and read it near the end of a news conference.

The North tested a nuclear device on October 9th, but later announced it would rejoin stalled six-party talks on ending its atomic program.

The leaders expressed their ``strong concern'' about North Korea's test, called for full implementation of U.N. sanctions against the regime and urged the North to fulfill a September 2005 agreement that committed it to give up nuclear arms in return for security and aid guarantees.

``We call for concrete and effective steps'' toward North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Triet said.

The United States and Japan said they were satisfied by the statement, even if it was not included in the joint declaration.

``What was important was that the members of APEC came together on a common statement,'' U.S. National Security Council official David McCormick said.

The United States and its partners in dealing with North Korea have been jockeying in recent days to coordinate their stances ahead of the expected resumption of the six-nation talks next month. The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

The countries held a series of bilateral meetings in Hanoi in an effort to meld the harder U.S. and Japanese stance toward the North with the more conciliatory attitudes of China, South Korea and Russia.

On Sunday, Bush sought Beijing's support for pressuring the North. China, host of the six-nation nuclear talks, is North Korea's top ally and is considered the key to weaning the regime from its nuclear ambitions.

More meetings were certain to follow. Japan, China and South Korea will all be at the upcoming East Asian Summit on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in December.

Asia-Pacific nations also were grappling with a U.S. backed proposal to create a vast, region-wide free-trade zone. Members agreed to study the idea for a year and report back at the 2007 summit in Sydney, Australia.