North Korea 'may reconsider' its Asean forum membership

North Korea's foreign minister told a global security forum on Friday that it might reconsider its membership of the annual gathering.

Gulf News

Kuala Lumpur: North Korea's foreign minister told a global security forum on Friday that it might reconsider its membership of the annual gathering.

This was disclosed by a Japanese official after the closed-door session.

The official told reporters that North Korea's Paek Nam-sun had made the comment in the Asean Regional Forum, which groups foreign ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations and other world powers, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Forum participants have called on North Korea to reconvene multi-lateral talks on the sidelines of the Kuala Lumpur meeting this week to help resolve fears over the North's nuclear arms ambitions.

North Korea also spurned yesterday appeals to join talks on its nuclear and missile programmes, saying the United States should drop financial sanctions before any negotiations occur. A US envoy said the communist nation was sinking deeper into isolation.

At the conference, North Korea struck a defiant tone as Condoleezza Rice and top diplomats from other regional powers discussed Asian security matters.

"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," Rice said.

Outside the convention centre where they met, hundreds of protesters marched to the building's entrance.

The protesters raised fists and chanted slogans against Washington's backing of Israel in the Lebanon conflict.

North Korea's efforts to develop nuclear weapons are a source of global concern, and the North deepened the standoff when it test-fired seven missiles earlier this month.

At the same time, US sanctions against banks linked to North Korea have sapped the communist country's cash flow.

"The US says it's difficult to lift the financial sanctions, but there is nothing difficult. If the US wants to, it can do it easily," North Korean spokesman Chong Song Il said.

Chong had harsh words for the United Nations, which condemned the missile tests and barred UN member states from dealing with North Korea in material or technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction.