Asian nations moved on Friday to defuse two critical points of tension in the Pacific, in preliminary steps welcomed by the Obama administration, which is trying to reassert US influence in the region.
On the sidelines of a Southeast Asian regional security conference in Bali, Indonesia, North and South Korea resumed long-stalled talks and China and its neighbors reached a draft agreement to peacefully resolve competing territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.
American officials expressed cautious hope that discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang could help relaunch nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North, and in a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton commended Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the maritime deal.
The US and China are major players with significant stakes in the resumption of dialogue between North and South Korea as well as six-nation talks aimed at convincing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.
On that front, the top nuclear negotiators from the North and South met on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum on Friday, their first talks since the six-party negotiations collapsed three years ago.
The North’s newly appointed envoy Ri Yong Ho said he and his South Korean counterpart Wi Sung-lac agreed to work together to quickly restart the nuclear talks. “We agreed to make efforts to resume the six-party talks soon,” Ri told reporters after the meeting. He said the meeting was conducted in a “candid and sincere” atmosphere, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
Wi, who described the talks as “productive” and “helpful,” confirmed the agreement and said he and Ri would continue their efforts, according to Yonhap.
North Korea, which stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to the six-party talks, has indicated in recent months that it might be ready.
North Korea’s main ally, China, has been pressing for a speedy resumption of the talks but the US and others have held out, saying that meaningful North-South dialogue must occur first.