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US takes hard line on North Korea nuke talks, South China Sea tensions at Asian security talks
BALI, Indonesia (AP) ' Tentative steps by North and South Korea to repair relations are not enough to warrant renewed multination nuclear disarmament talks, the U.S. said Saturday at an Asian security conference where it also took a tough line on resolving tensions in the South China Sea.
Declaring the United States a "resident power" with vital strategic interests throughout the Asia-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said North Korea must do more to improve ties with the South before Washington will consider resuming talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons in return for concessions.
In addition, Clinton laid out specific guidelines for the peaceful settlement of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying recent threats and flare-ups are endangering the security that has driven the region's economic growth and prosperity.
The political situation in Myanmar was also on the agenda at Saturday's talks that brought together 27 nations from the U.S., Asia and Europe. Clinton said the military-dominated country has reached a "critical juncture."
Myanmar's new civilian government, which took over late last year after a half-century of military rule, needs to make "concrete, measurable progress" in bringing about democratic reforms if it wants to win the confidence of the international community.
That includes releasing more than 2,000 political prisoners and holding meaningful dialogue with its political opponents.
The ASEAN Regional Forum opened Saturday morning with a buzz, with South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, and the North's Pak Ui Chun walking casually into the conference hall together.
A day before, their countries' top nuclear negotiators met for the first time since nuclear disarmament talks collapsed three years ago, opening the door for dialogue and a potential return, eventually, to more negotiations between the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
Clinton told diplomats she was encouraged to see the change.
"But we remain firm that in order for six-party talks to resume, North Korea must take steps to improve North-South relations," she said. "North Korea continues to present a critical proliferation challenge to the international community and to threaten regional stability with its provocative actions."
Since the last round of talks, North Korea has conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make atomic bombs. Recent North Korean threats against Seoul's conservative government include a vow to retaliate over South Korean soldiers' use of pictures of the ruling North Korean family for target practice.
Ahead of the conference, China and its Southeast Asian neighbors also agreed to a preliminary plan to resolve territorial disputes in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.
China claims the potentially resource-rich sea ' of tremendous strategic importance to everyone because one-third of the world's shipping transits through it ' in its entirety.
The loudest protests have come from the Philippines and Vietnam, saying Chinese ships have increasingly been interfering with their oil-exploration efforts or bullied crews, something Beijing denies.
Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also claim parts of the sea.
Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said there have been at least seven aggressive intrusions this year in waters that were 85 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine island and 600 nautical miles from China's coast.
"If Philippine sovereign rights can be denigrated" by China's baseless claims to the South China Sea, he said, "many countries should begin to contemplate the potential threat to navigation."
Clinton urged all parties to show restraint and to comply with international law "and resolve their disputes through peaceful means." It's vital, she said, that they work together.
As a starting point, the U.S. wants all nations to map out their territory in terms consistent with customary international law, a senior U.S. official said on condition he not be named, adding that many of the claims seem to be "exaggerated."
North Korea's newly appointed envoy, Ri Yong Ho, meanwhile, said Friday that he and his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac, agreed during their meeting to work together to quickly restart nuclear talks.
Wi, who described the talks as "productive" and "helpful," confirmed the agreement and said he and Ri would continue their efforts.
North Korea stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to the talks and has indicated in recent months that it may be ready. Pyongyang's main ally, China, also has been pressing for a speedy resumption of the talks.
Clinton and the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea held talks on the sidelines of the security forum Saturday to assess the situation and plot a way forward.
Japan's foreign minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, said he hoped continuing solidarity between the three countries would help to further deter provocative actions by the North.