North Asian foreign ministers talk Cheonan aftermath, G-20

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North Asian foreign ministers talk Cheonan aftermath, G-20

Top diplomats of Korea, Japan and China met Saturday in Gyeongju to discuss three-way cooperation on regional issues, and the recent sinking of a South Korean warship and North Korea’s nuclear ambition.

The three-way talks, the fourth of their kind, were held amid deepening tension on the Korean Peninsula following the sinking of a South Korean warship Cheonan near the border with North Korea.

Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed.

“We expressed our sympathies over the loss of many lives due to the sinking of South Korean naval ship Cheonan on March 26, and exchanged our views on the incident,” Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said in a joint press conference after his three-way talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

The foreign ministers also sought to further their countries’ trilateral cooperation on regional and global matters.

“Regarding various key regional and international issues, we exchanged views on current conditions in Northeast Asia, regional cooperation and our joint efforts against the global economic crisis, as well as climate change and the upcoming G-20 Seoul summit,” they said in a joint press statement.

For Korea, the Cheonan tragedy overshadowed the talks Saturday as it figures out how to punish the culprits behind the deadly disaster.

A joint investigation team of Korea, the U.S., Australia, Britain and Sweden was looking into the possibility of a torpedo attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan.

If confirmed, it could be used as circumstantial evidence of North Korea’s suspected involvement.

Much hinges on China, North Korea’s close ally and biggest benefactor, which can veto any UN resolutions sanctioning Pyongyang.

Yu, in bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart earlier in the day, sought to win Beijing’s support in dealing with the Cheonan incident.

“While discussing security conditions in Northeast Asia, the two ministers [Yu and Yang] also exchanged views on the Cheonan incident and the North Korean nuclear issue,” Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said of the Yu-Yang meeting.

“The two sides agreed to discuss and consult closely with each other” on the issue, he added.

A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Minister Yang emphasized that “a scientific and objective investigation is very important.”

“The three ministers briefly discussed the resumption of the six-party talks [about North Korea’s nuclear program] while reviewing their regional security conditions, and they each stated their countries’ basic stance,” a South Korean official said, asking not to be identified.

The ministers also sought to finalize their earlier agreement to establish a permanent secretariat for regional cooperation in South Korea.

The agreement, if reached, will be formally signed and announced by the countries’ leaders when they meet for a three-way summit on South Korea’s resort island of Jeju from May 29-30, according to Yu.

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