- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

NEW YORK — China and Russia, key nations in six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, skipped an expanded session yesterday, in which countries from the Philippines to Canada sought to address Pyongyang’s refusal to negotiate.

The session, hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was an attempt to involve Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines in an expanded forum on regional security.

“Several participants commented that they thought China should be doing more” to bring North Korea back to the six-party talks, said Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Officials from other countries at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that many of those present expressed disappointment with Beijing.

They also said that the Chinese had made a conscious decision not to attend, questioning Mr. Hill’s suggestion that the reason had to do with scheduling.

Mr. Hill played down the absence of both China and Russia, saying that their foreign ministers had met with Miss Rice several times this week and “we kind of know where they are on these issues.”

The six-party talks consist of the United States, Japan, China, North and South Korea and Russia. A year ago, all parties signed a joint statement that they are committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Since then, Pyongyang has boycotted the process, blaming Washington for imposing financial sanctions aimed at stopping suspected money-laundering and North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. $100 bills.

Briefing reporters at yesterday’s meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, Mr. Hill said that all participants made it clear that the meeting was not a substitute for the six-party talks.

“We are not in any way trying to change that,” Mr. Hill said. “It’s simply an informal forum whose purpose is to discuss the security situation in Northeast Asia and to support the six-party process.”

Still, he said, the expanded format is designed to make it clear that Pyongyang’s refusal to negotiate does not preclude other international venues from discussing the nuclear issue.

“The effect of it will be to show North Korea that there is a broader concern in the broader region about its nuclear programs,” Mr Hill said.

“It also, I think, demonstrates clearly to North Korea the fact that, while they may boycott the six-party process, they are not going to veto multilateral discussions in Northeast Asia.”

Mr. Hill, who returned from a trip to the region last week, said that several ministers yesterday “expressed concern” about a possible North Korean nuclear test and “emphasized the need to dissuade the North Koreans by all means possible.”

North Korea claims it has produced atomic bombs, but it has never conducted a nuclear test.

Earlier this week, Japan and Australia imposed financial sanctions on North Korea because of its ballistic missile program. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang criticized the move Tuesday.

“The Chinese government has always advocated that this issue should be resolved by dialogue, and we are opposed to sanctions,” he said. “All parties concerned should focus on how to resume the talks as soon as possible and avoid any actions that may further complicate the situation.”

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