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North Korea set to attend regional ASEAN meeting

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Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong (centre) speaks to reporters after returning yesterday from a visit to North Korea. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong (centre) speaks to reporters after returning yesterday from a visit to North Korea. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

North Korea would attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh next month, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said yesterday.

Returning from the country after a three-day visit, Hor Namhong said his North Korean counterpart, Pak Ui-chun, was expected to make the trip.

“[My] visit [resulted in a] much better, increased bilateral relationship,” he said before quickly entering his car.

Cambodia is in a unique position to bring both North Korea and China to the table at the forum, maintaining strong relationships with both countries, each of which welcomed King Father Norodom Sihanouk after he was deposed in 1970.

The US has consistently urged China to more strongly pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Cambodia is expected to invite these countries along with South Korea, Japan and Russia to resume six-party talks on nuclear disarmament.

But this would not be the first time North Korea had made noises suggesting it was willing to engage in regional dialogue, and Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, urged caution along with optimism.

“By showing up at the ARF, I think North Korea wants to use ASEAN as a buffer against the six-party talks,” he said, adding the rogue state was once again switching to “good boy” mode.

“Everyone in ASEAN would dearly love for North Korea to become more like a normal state and start behaving.”

China would be the key to any progress, whether through sideline talks or a direct resumption of six-party talks, and the US would be happy for any kind of dialogue, he said.

US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh referred questions to the Cambodian government.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong declined to comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com

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