APEC leaders urge N. Korea to abandon nuclear arms bid

Kyodo

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders urged North Korea to scrap its nuclear arms program in their Sunday summit in Los Cabos and called for unity on other key issues, including the fight against terrorism, and on structural reforms and free trade.

After two days of talks at this Mexican seaside resort, the leaders of 21 Pacific Rim economies agreed to take further steps to eradicate terrorism while preventing such efforts from hindering free trade and economic growth.

The heads of state made the call on North Korea in a special statement, responding to growing world concerns over the communist country’s recently revealed nuclear weapons program. It is the first time APEC leaders have issued a statement on a particular country since they started meeting in 1993.

“We call upon North Korea to visibly honor its commitment to give up nuclear weapons programs and reaffirm our commitment to ensure a peaceful resolution of this issue,” the statement says.

The appeal followed a Saturday agreement by the leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea to step up efforts to compel the North to end its weapons program.

The APEC leaders said North Korea must cease nuclear weapons development if it wants to reap the economic benefits of being a member of the Asia-Pacific community.

North Korea will “benefit economically from greater participation as a member of the Asia-Pacific community. Such a prospect will rest upon a nuclear weapons-free status on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement says. “A nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula is important to the peace and stability of the peninsula and Northeast Asia, and is also in the interests of all members of the region.”

APEC was created in 1989 primarily to discuss ways to promote free trade and investment. But this year’s summit mostly dealt with political issues, including those pertaining to Iraq, North Korea and terrorism, a trend seen after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. last year.

The Los Cabos summit took place in the wake of the Oct. 12 bombings in Indonesia, several bomb explosions Oct. 18 in the Philippines and the hostage crisis in Russia.

The leaders condemned “in the strongest terms” the recent terrorist attacks in member states and reaffirmed their resolve to enhance cooperation to fight terrorism, Mexican President Vicente Fox, who chaired the summit, said in a news conference.

In the declaration for the 10th summit, they reaffirmed their resolve to fight terrorism, which they said poses a “profound threat” to the APEC vision of free, open and prosperous economies.

The 21 heads of state then pledged to tighten trade, financial and communications security to uproot terrorism.

But efforts to combat terrorism should not block APEC from “maintaining the smooth flow of goods, capital and people that has been key to the region’s economic growth,” the statement says.

The leaders vowed anew to accelerate progress toward free trade and investment goals set in the 1994 APEC summit in Bogor, Indonesia. Under the goals, developed APEC members are to open up trade and investment by 2010 and developing members by 2020.

They encouraged APEC members to pursue “substantive negotiations in all areas” of the agenda for a new trade round the World Trade Organization launched last November in Doha, including the abolition of agricultural export subsidies, to ensure the round will conclude by the Jan. 1, 2005, deadline.

But they stopped short of calling for quick abolition of these subsidies, as proposed by food exporting APEC members like the U.S. and Australia, as Japan resisted the move, which reportedly would have committed APEC to a goal beyond what WTO members have agreed to.

The leaders also urged APEC members to pursue APEC’s goals when they deepen economic ties through regional and bilateral trade agreements.

Moves for free trade pacts are rapidly spreading among APEC members. The U.S. announced a new initiative with Southeast Asian nations Saturday, Japan and Mexico launched formal, one-year talks Sunday and Indonesia proposed an accord with Japan among similar moves on the fringes of APEC events in the past week alone.