APEC Summit Ends with Pledge on Counter-Terrorism Measures

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Asia-Pacific leaders have ended a two-day summit in Thailand by announcing a series of policies aimed at enhancing the fight against terrorism.

The 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders also called Tuesday a revival of world trade talks, which stalled in Cancun, Mexico, last month; and for a negotiated end to the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Originally designed as an economic forum for countries on either side of the Pacific Ocean, APEC gatherings have become increasingly political in recent years, a development that has caused unease among some members.

The U.S. succeeded in its aim of having terrorism and North Korea feature prominently at the Bangkok talks. The instability caused by both issues is widely recognized as having a significant economic impact on the region.

The end-of-summit declaration said transnational terrorism and weapons of mass destruction proliferation posed "direct and profound challenges" and threatened economies.

The leaders undertook to "dismantle, fully and without delay, transnational terrorist groups that threaten the APEC economies" and to "eliminate the severe and growing danger posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."

Among the policies to combat terrorism are the establishment of a regional fund to help developing members improve port security and tackle money laundering and terrorist financing.

Another initiative is a system to exchange information on international travelers.

Called an advance passenger information (API) system, it will allow real-time exchange of data on intending passengers between departure and destination ports.

Six APEC members -- the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Thailand -- committed themselves to implementing API systems, while others are looking into doing so.

A related initiative, proposed by Australia and to be explored further, envisages a system that would allow authorities to check travelers against pooled records of terrorists and criminals, and check their travel documents against records of lost, stolen or fraudulent papers.

The leaders also vowed to confront the threat posed by terrorists getting their hands on portable surface-to-air missiles.

Although North Korea was not on the official agenda for the meeting, the U.S. worked hard to have the summit pay attention to the communist country's nuclear ambitions.

The final declaration did not refer directly to North Korea, although the chairman, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, read a verbal statement afterwards on the issue.

"We seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue while addressing all the concerns of the parties including the security concerns raised by [North Korea]," it said.

The statement also calling for a resumption of six-party talks which failed in an earlier round to break the deadlock between U.S. and others' demands for an end to Pyongyang's nuclear program, and North Korea's demands for a non-aggression pact from Washington.

North Korea was also the topic in bilateral meetings Bush held with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.

After Bush's talks with South Korea's Roh Moo-hyun, the two issued a statement calling for a quick resumption of the six-party talks, and urged Pyongyang to "refrain from any action which would exacerbate the situation."

Last week, North Korea warned it would conduct a test to prove its nuclear weapons capability, the latest in a series of threats and actions since the crisis over its nuclear ambitions erupted a year ago.

The president has reiterated his refusal of a formal non-aggression pact with North Korea, but suggested that a pledge of some type may be possible.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Bangkok that the U.S. had presented its allies with "expanded ideas" on how North Korea could be given security assurances, short of the non-aggression pact Pyongyang is demanding.

The initiative would commit the other five countries directly involved in talks - the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia - jointly to pledge not to invade North Korea, in return for an end to its nuclear program.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow