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23 July 2009

US wants SE Asia to pressure N Korea on ‘suspected cargoes’

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to ask Southeast Asia to join the US in demanding ‘transparency’ from North Korea about the contents of its cargoes, Bloomberg news reported, citing excerpts of a speech to be delivered.

The US held “intensive” discussions with Asian governments on the matter after tracking a North Korean vessel, the Kang Nam, she said. The ship was suspected of carrying military goods banned by a UN Security Council resolution.

The US is ready to resume talks with North Korea with a “more ambitious agenda” as long as the North understands that it won’t be given new rewards for fulfilling existing obligations on dismantling its nuclear-arms program, Clinton said in remarks for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Phuket, Thailand.

US officials have been focusing attention on the danger of North Korea selling nuclear technology to other countries, possibly including Myanmar’s military government.

Admiral Timothy Keating, who commands U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region, said in an interview Wednesday that the US Navy is prepared to track and inspect any North Korean vessel suspected of carrying such cargo, using new authority from the Security Council.

Clinton said Wednesday in Bangkok that the US is concerned by reports of Myanmar and North Korea cooperating on nuclear technology, and called on Asian countries to present a “united front against that ever happening.”

The US and its Asian allies are on alert for suspected proliferation of conventional or nuclear materials by North Korea, which set off a nuclear device in 2006 and again in May. The US Navy recently followed the Kang Nam, a North Korean freighter that was headed in the direction of Myanmar with unknown cargo. The ship turned around and returned home earlier this month.

Japan expects Myanmar to “comply fully” with UN sanctions against North Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said Wednesday in Thailand.

Turning to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Asean ministers said the regime there should release Nobel Prize- winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, a call Clinton echoed.

Clinton said the US expects “fair treatment” for Suu Kyi, who is on trial and could face as many as five years in prison for violating terms of her house arrest. The opposition leader has already spent 13 years in detention since her party won 1990 elections that were never recognised by the army.

Clinton suggested that incentives could be made available to Myanmar if the regime were to release Suu Kyi.

“There are a lot of opportunities that could be made available to the Burmese government and people if they did release her,” she said. “It would open up doors for investment and exchanges that would help the people of Burma.”

Any ability to influence the junta economically is likely to be limited given Myanmar’s trade in natural gas with Thailand and China, a US administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.



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