N. Korea must irreversibly denuclearize or face sanctions: Clinton

by Varunee Torsricharoen

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she and her counterparts from Japan, China, Russia and South Korea hold a common stance that North Korea must embark on ''irreversible denuclearization.''

Clinton, speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of ASEAN-organized ministerial meetings on the Thai resort island of Phuket, said the stance was reconfirmed when she met here on a bilateral basis with her counterparts from the four other countries.

''If they will agree to irreversible denuclearization, the United States as well as our partners will move forward on a package of incentives and opportunities, including normalizing relations, that will give people of North Korea a better future,'' Clinton said.

''The path is open to them and it's up to them to follow it. Unless and until they do, they will face international isolation and the unrelenting pressure of global sanctions,'' she said.

The United States has threatened to aggressively carry out sanctions against North Korea as long as it refuses to return to the six-party talks on its denuclearization.

The six-party talks, which bring together North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since December due to differences over ways to verify Pyongyang's nuclear activities.

North Korea has said it would quit the talks in protest at a U.N. Security Council statement condemning its rocket launch in April, which was widely seen as a disguised missile test.

Clinton said the North Korea's five dialogue partners in the six-party process ''are pursuing in a united front a very positive approach that we hope the North Koreans will respond to.''

The issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions is expected to be discussed here Thursday by foreign ministers in the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum.

Clinton also voiced concern earlier Wednesday over alleged collaboration between North Korea and Myanmar that might include transfer of nuclear technology.

In an interview with Thailand's Nation TV, she said would discuss with ARF partners about the issue.

''We want to try to focus attention by countries that have a direct relationship, or share have a border (with Myanmar), as Thailand does, to that there can be a united front against that happening,'' she said. ''I'm not saying that it is happening, but we want to be prepared to try to stand against it.''

Nakasone, Clinton hold talks on N. Korea, other issues

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone held talks with his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to affirm close cooperation between the two countries over the North Korean nuclear threat and other issues.

The talks were being held on the sidelines of a series of meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their key dialogue partners on the Thai resort island of Phuket.

The main topic during the scheduled 30-minute meeting is likely to center around North Korea, with both countries hoping to see an early resumption of the six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea has said it will not take part in the six-way talks in protest over a U.N. Security Council statement condemning its rocket launch in April, which was widely seen as a disguised missile test. It also conducted its second nuclear test in May.

The bilateral talks in Thailand came after Nakasone and U.S. Secretary of State Clinton failed to meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight foreign ministerial meeting in June in Italy. Clinton skipped the meeting due to an elbow injury.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on July 22, 2009)