- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — North Korea yesterday spurned appeals to join talks on its nuclear and missile programs, saying the United States should drop financial sanctions before any negotiations occur. A U.S. envoy said the communist nation was sinking deeper into isolation.

At a conference in Malaysia, North Korea struck a defiant tone as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top diplomats from other regional powers discussed Asian security matters without their counterpart from Pyongyang.

“I hope that today’s gathering will begin the basis for cooperation of a new, regional dialogue that can help us overcome these tensions, help us increase security throughout the region,” Miss Rice said before entering the meeting.

She added that the United States hoped for a resumption of stalled six-party talks on North Korea, which also include South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

Outside the convention center, hundreds of anti-U.S. demonstrators broke through a police cordon and marched to the building’s entrance. The protesters, mostly members of Malaysia’s ruling coalition, raised fists and chanted slogans against Washington’s backing of Israel in the Lebanon conflict.

North Korea’s effort to develop nuclear weapons is a source of global concern, and the North deepened the standoff when it test-launched seven missiles earlier this month. At the same time, U.S. sanctions against banks linked to North Korea have sapped the communist country’s cash flow.

“The U.S. says it’s difficult to lift the financial sanctions, but there is nothing difficult. If the U.S. wants to, it can do it easily,” North Korean spokesman Chong Song-il said in Kuala Lumpur. “We believe if the U.S. earnestly wants dialogue, it can do this.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun told delegates to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) that his country might pull out of the security conference attended by 25 countries and the European Union if it condemned North Korean actions, according to diplomats.

The North’s diplomatic isolation was evident in the decision by the United States and other nations to hold a separate meeting on the sidelines of ARF without Mr. Paek, ostensibly to discuss northeast Asian security.

“They are completely isolated,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill. “If it’s isolation they want, it’s going to be isolation they get.”

The sideline meeting included Miss Rice, foreign ministers from countries involved in the six-party talks, and the foreign ministers of Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada and New Zealand.

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