Nuclear issue dominates leaders' meetings

North Korea has test-fired a surface-to-ship missile in what some have called a routine military exercise, as many of the world's leaders discussed global security concerns at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit in Bangkok, RFA reports.

The missile test, which was reported by the South Korean military, took place off the eastern coast of North Korea but did not endanger Japan.

"It looks like the missile was fired as part of annual exercises," said Kim Hyung-kyu, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul.

He said North Korea had conducted similar exercises two or three times so far this year, but he declined to give further details of the launch.

Japan's Defense Agency said that, according to its information, the missile was launched from the eastern coast of North Korea at around midday 0300 GMT) Monday. Japanese public broadcaster NHK said the missile was likely a version of the Chinese Silkworm anti-ship missiles that North Korea fired in February and March, and which have a range of around 100 kms (60 miles).

News of the test-firing came shortly after U.S. President George W. Bush and his South Korean counterpart Roh Moo-Hyun issued a joint statement calling on Pyongyang to "refrain from any action which would exacerbate the situation."

The two leaders also called on Pyongyang to move ahead with six-party talks to resolve the standoff. Negotiators from the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China met in Beijing in late August for multilateral talks brokered by China, but they ended with no concrete agreement�just an intention to meet again.

No date has yet been set for a further round of talks, and Pyongyang has since vowed to boost its weapons program, and demanded that Japan be excluded from any further talks.

Some observers see its statements as negotiating tactics, however.

Security concerns had already begun to dominate the APEC summit, as Bush sought Asian support for his "war on terror," arguing that terrorism posed "a direct and profound" challenge to freeing trade and increasing prosperity.

Some forum members have protested at the hijacking of APEC's trade agenda for military and political purposes.

"APEC was formed as an economic cooperation group. But we don't agree with taking away economic matters into security, military, or politics, which are not really for APEC," said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The North Korean nuclear issue dominated bilateral meetings between leaders, however.

North Korea wants a bilateral nonaggression pact with the United States before it abandons its nuclear arms program, while the United States wants North Korea to move quickly to scrap the nuclear program first.

Bush said for the first time Sunday that he would explore ways of satisfying North Korea's demand for an assurance that the United States would not invade the Stalinist state, but he ruled out a bilateral accord.

"Perhaps there are other ways we can look at to say exactly what I've said publicly on paper with our partners' consent," Bush said after discussions on the issue with China's President Hu Jintao, in which he was reported to have offered similar assurances to be relayed to Pyongyang via Chinese contacts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a bilateral meeting with Koizumi that "there is a need to address North Korea's concerns for a guarantee of security in a proper form," a Japanese official said. #####


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