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Sunday, May 8, 2005

Asia-Europe conference wraps up divided on North Korea, Myanmar


Staff writer

KYOTO -- A meeting of Asian and European foreign ministers concluded Saturday with an agreement over the importance of U.N. reform and the need to address sustainable development goals, but with sharp differences over North Korea's nuclear program and the political situation in Myanmar.

"The (Asia-Europe Meeting) confirmed its commitment to a reformed United Nations playing a central role in addressing global challenges and threats, and recognized the importance of sustainable development in Asia," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said.

Japan, along with Finland and Sweden, proposed that the ASEM promote environmental cooperation at the local level, particularly the "three Rs" -- reducing, recycling and reusing. An inaugural workshop between ASEM members to discuss how to implement such cooperation will take place in Tokyo later this year, the Foreign Ministry said in an official statement.

Ecologically sustainable development for the Asian region was one of the main issues addressed in Saturday's meetings.

There were calls from the European side to ensure that as local communities in the Asian region develop, they do so in a way that does as little damage to the environment as possible.

"Asia and Europe should strive for a joint vision of sustainable development. Challenges resulting in fast growth in Asia cannot be minimized, especially the impact on natural resources and climate change," said Benita Ferrero-Waldner of the European Commission.

Japan said it would undertake with Finland, which will host a meeting of Asian and European leaders next year, a review of the entire ASEM process.

In its proposal for future action, Japan suggested that ASEM meetings be used to address not just regional but global concerns.

The two-day affair in Kyoto was meant to strengthen long-term cooperation between Asia and Europe. But discussions on broader issues took a back seat to immediate Asian political concerns.

From disagreement between Japan and South Korea over whether to deal with North Korea through other means, including through the U.N. Security Council, to concerns over Myanmar's chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year, it was political tension in the region, particularly East Asia, that got the most attention.

Despite some pressure from the United States and Japan to take the issue of North Korea's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council, South Korea opposed the move.

The ASEM ministers agreed that the six-party talks, which involve North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S., should be restarted without further delay.

Room for negotiation has "not yet been closed off. Many ministers here at ASEM agreed that the six-party talks still provide the best opportunity for a peaceful resolution," said South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon.

The sharpest differences between Asia and Europe were over Myanmar, scheduled to become the ASEAN chair next year.

In the morning, about 60 supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi protested in front of the Kyoto International Conference Hall, where the ministers were meeting.



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