At ASEAN, a retreat on the Cheonan

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At ASEAN, a retreat on the Cheonan

The ASEAN Regional Forum, scheduled for Friday in Hanoi, was expected to be another diplomatic venue for discussion of the Cheonan sinking, but the government is now scaling back its goals to avoid coming out the loser.

Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday that the ministry has changed its mind about asking that the Cheonan incident be referred to in the statement that closes the meeting of foreign ministers of 27 Asia-Pacific countries, including North Korea.

“It is not desirable that the ARF becomes a place for arguments about who is right between South and North Korea by inserting the positions of both in the ARF chairman’s statement,” said a ministry official.

Seoul’s initial stance was that a condemnation of the North for the deadly Cheonan sinking should be included in the ARF chairman’s statement as a further show of international solidarity on the issue. On July 9, the UN Security Council released a presidential statement indirectly condemning the North for the March 26 sinking.

But Seoul realized that if Pyongyang’s denial of involvement was included in the statement, it would be worse than no statement at all.

“It has become very clear now (who is responsible) over for the Cheonan incident,” said another official of the ministry, “so we don’t need to give the impression that there still is controversy by continuing a war of words.”

Meanwhile, the ARF meeting will also discuss six-party talks about the denuclearization of North Korea. All countries in the six-party talks - the U.S., Russia, Japan, China and the two Koreas - send foreign ministers to the meeting. Park Ui-chun, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Korea, is expected to head the North Korean delegates.

A preliminary ARF presidential statement obtained by AFP includes a statement of support for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and an recommendation of a resumption of the disarmament talks.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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