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West Asia, N Korea, Iran top ASEAN talks

Asia's main security forum was attended by 25 top policymakers from around the world.
None | By Reuters, Kuala Lumpur
PUBLISHED ON JUL 28, 2006 01:08 PM IST

Asia's main security forum attended by 25 top policymakers from around the world on Friday homed in on West Asia crisis and the nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, attending the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) for the first time, will hold talks on the Lebanon crisis and Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, although North Korea itself will not take part in the talks.

The unexpected arrival of Iran's foreign minister in Malaysia focused attention on the West Asia conflict but also prompted speculation Iran was ready for talks on its own nuclear plans.

However European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is Europe's chief negotiator in the nuclear talks with Iran, was not due to meet Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki in Kuala Lumpur, an EU official said.

The fighting in the West Asia was perhaps the biggest focus.

"We're very much concerned at the grave situation taking place in Lebanon and Gaza," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, hosting the forum, said at the opening of the meeting.

Israel called up 15,000 reserve soldiers but ruled out a full-scale invasion of Lebanon against Hezbollah guerrillas, backed by Iran and Syria, as diplomatic divisions appeared to widen on how to end the 17-day-old conflict.

At least 445 people, mostly civilians, have been confirmed killed in Lebanon, as well as 51 Israelis.

Rice arrived in Kuala Lumpur from a packed round of meetings in the West Asia via a one-day conference in Rome that called for an urgent but not immediate ceasefire.

She said on arrival she was willing to return to the West Asia at any time, but added that only made sense if she could help bring about a lasting peace, underlining Washington's reluctance to rein in Israel while it is fighting Hezbollah.

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