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North Korea signs on to peace pact

‘Every step we take to encourage North Korea to abide by international norms is a step in the right direction.’

July 25,2008
SINGAPORE ? North Korea signed a non-aggression pact with Southeast Asia yesterday in what officials and analysts said was a sign it wants to be seen as a more responsible international player.

The signing came a day after unprecedented talks between foreign ministers of North Korea and five other nations involved in long-running negotiations aimed at ending the reclusive communist state’s nuclear programs.

A ceremony to mark its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) took place after the Asean Regional Forum, Asia’s main security dialogue which includes North Korea among its 27 members.

Ri Tong Il, North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters that joining the treaty “is a symbol of its willingness to have friendly relations” with Asean and of the North’s willingness to contribute to regional peace and security.

“The treaty comes as North Korea is seeking to reach out to the outside world,” said Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University.

“Through this treaty, it wants to send a signal abroad that it is prepared to act as a responsible member of the international community.”

Originally signed by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1976, the treaty has now been acceded to by 15 nations outside the region. South Korea signed in 2004.

Regional officials welcomed the North’s accession to the TAC, the main principles of which include settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means, and renunciation of the threat or use of force.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he was “excited” by the prospect of North Korea joining the pact, which could help ease tensions.

“There is no reason why it should not, but we have to get the trust and confidence among the parties to enable that to happen.”

Andrew Tan, spokesman for the series of Asean meetings in Singapore, said the signing was a small step, “but every step that we take to encourage North Korea to abide by international norms is a step in the right direction.”

“It is very significant,” agreed Mely Caballero-Anthony, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

She said that because the document tries to promote a peaceful approach to dispute resolution, North Korea’s signing would suggest a lessening of tensions with South Korea and the United States.

However, another analyst, Carl Thayer of the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre at The Australian National University, took the opposite view.

“This will have no measurable impact on North Korean behavior towards China, Japan or the United States,” he said.

While Asean’s 10 members welcomed the signing, the main diplomatic effort involving North Korea remains the six-party talks, said Tan.

Wednesday’s meeting in Singapore marked the highest-level talks in four years between North Korea and the United States as part of the multilateral negotiations on denuclearization.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat down with her North Korean counterpart, Pak Ui Chun, as well as the foreign ministers of Japan, Russia, South Korea and China.

Pyongyang has recently agreed to completely disable its main weapons-grade plutonium-producing facilities by the end of October and to allow thorough site inspections to verify a June declaration of its nuclear programs.

AFP


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