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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 219 (July 19, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Top Diplomats of Two Koreas Shun Each Other at ASEAN Forum in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH (Yonhap) -- Top diplomats of the two Koreas have pointedly shunned each other at annual security talks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, dashing hopes of a possible encounter and underscoring frozen inter-Korean relations.

   The ASEAN Regional Forum has served as an important venue for discussions on North Korea. The forum marked the first time South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his North Korean counterpart, Pak Ui-chun, could have held face-to-face meetings on the sidelines since the December death of North Korea's long-time ruler, Kim Jong-il.

   Along with top diplomats from Southeast Asian nations and regional powers, Kim and Pak have posed for group photos several times during the forum, but did not even greet each other.

   To pay a courtesy call to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 12, foreign ministers trickled in along an entranceway flanked by scores of cameras. Kim and Pak entered the meeting room separately.

   Between each arrival, Kim chatted with other foreign ministers. Pak simply smiled and shook hands with some ministers, including Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. However, Kim and Pak apparently shunned each other and did not even shake hands.

   It was a sharp contrast from last year's ASEAN Regional Forum in Indonesia, when the ministers held brief meetings on the sidelines after making diplomatic progress to possibly resume the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons program.

   Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambition have been frozen since April, when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket that failed moments after lift-off.

   The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the launch as a disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile and warned the North of further sanctions if it conducts another missile launch or nuclear test.

   Concerns persist that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make up for its failed launch. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   Pak didn't respond to a barrage of questions by reporters during the forum.

   At one point, a South Korean reporter agitated Pak by shouting out a question about North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un, "Has Comrade Kim Jong-un married?" In response, Pak only frowned at the reporter.

   Little is known about the North's young leader Kim, who is believed to be in his late 20s.

   Also on July 12, North Korea's delegation released an English-language statement at the ASEAN forum, arguing it needs a "nuclear deterrent" to protect itself from what it called "the hostile policy" of the United States.

   "The hostile policy of the U.S. against the DPRK (North Korea) is rooted in its intention to eliminate the political ideology and system our people have opted for," the North's delegation said in the statement, renewing calls for a peace treaty with the U.S.

   The two Koreas are still technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. North Korea, China and the U.S. were signatories to the cease-fire.

   "To ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. must give up its hostile policy towards the DPRK and replace the Korean Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty so as to put an end to the state of war between the DPRK and the U.S," the statement read.

   In a diplomatic farce, the North's statement cited Paek Nam-sun, a former foreign minister who died in 2007, as its incumbent foreign minister, raising speculation about its motive.

   Meanwhile, top diplomats from Southeast Asian nations and regional powers urged on July 13 that a "peaceful dialogue" on the Korean Peninsula should be resumed to ease tension and rebuild confidence amid security jitters over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

   "The ministers underlined the importance of peace, security and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and urged concerned parties not to take any further provocation actions," read the chairman's statement summing up the results of the ARF.

   "The ministers further reiterated the call for all parties concerned to explore all possibilities to engage in peaceful dialogue which would lead to the creation of an atmosphere of trust and confidence among the concerned parties," the statement said.

   The statement did not mention North Korea by name, but urged "concerned parties to comply with their respective obligations under the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions and their commitment."

   The ARF is the region's biggest annual security gathering. Among those attending are the countries in the six-party negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   Following North Korea's botched rocket launch in April, South Korean officials have said it would be difficult for the six-party talks to be resumed this year, citing the upcoming presidential elections in both Seoul and Washington.

   The North's failed launch ended a possible deal with the U.S. in which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for food aid from Washington. Such conditions have been considered necessary steps to reopen the six-party talks.
There have been persistent concerns that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make up for its failed launch. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   Pak Ui-chun on early July 11 arrived in Phnom Penh to attend the annual forum and on July 17 flied into Pyongyang, according to the North's news media outlets.

  (END)
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