N. Korean FM Visits Myanmar Amid Speculation of Nuclear Cooperation
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's top diplomat traveled to Myanmar recently and met with top officials amid mounting speculation that the two countries might strike a nuclear cooperation deal.
Pak Ui-chun, North Korea's foreign minister, made a four-day trip to the Southeast Asian nation from July 29 and held talks with his Myanmarese counterpart U Nyan Win a day later in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and other reports.
The two sides "exchanged views on the issue of developing the friendly relations between the two countries and regional and international issues of mutual concern," the KCNA report said, without elaborating on details.
In a separate report, the KCNA said Pak also met with Prime Minister Thein Sein on the same day. Thein Sein told Pak that his country will "continue to strive for strengthening and development" of the bilateral relationship," the report said.
Pak's closely monitored visit has sparked outside concerns that Myanmar's military rulers may be seeking nuclear cooperation with North Korea, which has conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and last year. Some reports have suggested that North Korea has delivered military equipment to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Arms sales are one of the major sources of revenue for North Korea, suspected of being behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Syria, Iran, Pakistan and several other countries. In June 2009, a North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, returned home after being closely tracked by U.S. Navy vessels.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Myanmar's junta against any atomic weapons cooperation with North Korea, saying, "We continue to be concerned by the reports that Burma may be seeking assistance from North Korea with regard to a nuclear program.
"We know that a ship from North Korea recently delivered military equipment to Burma and we continue to be concerned by the reports that Burma may be seeking assistance from North Korea with regard to a nuclear program," Clinton said at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi.
Pak's visit to Myanmar was the first by a North Korean foreign minister in 27 years. Myanmar cut off ties with North Korea in 1983 after Pyongyang was found to have carried out a bombing attack on a South Korean presidential delegation on an official visit to the Southeast Asian country.
Then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan escaped unharmed, but 21 people, including four South Korean Cabinet ministers, were killed.
Myanmar restored relations with North Korea in 2007.
In the wake of the North Korean officials visit to Myanmar, the U.S. called on the Southeast Asian nation to abide by an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile test last year.
"We have concerns about the nature of the relationship between North Korea and Burma," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on July 29.
"We don't see the transparency in that relationship that we'd like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations."