Rumsfeld, Asian Ministers to Discuss North Korea

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - North Korea is expected to take center stage at an Asian security conference, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will meet with defense ministers from across the region.

On the sidelines of the weekend gathering in Singapore, Rumsfeld also plans discussions with Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ohno and separately with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Kwang Ung,

Japan and South Korea are Washington's closest partners in a diplomatic process aimed at resolving the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons capability.

Last June, representatives of the three allies joined officials from China, Russia and North Korea in a round of talks in Beijing that ended inconclusively. No "six-party" talks have been held since, due to Pyongyang's refusal to attend.

Almost a year later, North Korea on Thursday repeated its intention not to return to the nuclear talks, saying recent remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney were further reason to stay away.

A foreign ministry spokesman was reacting to Cheney's description during a television interview Sunday of Kim Jong-il as "one of the world's most irresponsible leaders." Rumsfeld said Kim ran a police state, did not care for his people, and wanted to "throw his weight around and become a nuclear power."

In comments released by North Korea's official KCNA mouthpiece, the official called Cheney "a cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast."

And in the latest of a string of threats, the spokesman said that "if the U.S. persists in its wrong behavior, misjudging our magnanimity and patience as a sign of weakness, this will entail more serious consequences."

The escalation in rhetoric comes despite a recent and rare meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials at the United Nations in New York, where the State Department said envoy Joseph DiTrani had urged Pyongyang to end the talks boycott.

Rumsfeld's address at the conference and his meeting with Yoon will provide him with an opportunity to hear South Korea's concerns and make clear Washington's view on the nuclear issue.

Seoul has at times during the 32-month nuclear dispute differed with the U.S. approach, resisting any suggestion of sanctions or other stern action against the North.

Apart from the Rumsfeld-Yoon meeting, South Korean deputy foreign minister Song Min-Soon also held talks in Washington Wednesday with Christopher Hill, the State Department's envoy to the six-party talks.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is due to meet with President Bush at the White House on June 10.

In his talks with Yoon and Ohno this weekend, Rumsfeld is also expected to discuss the planned restructuring of U.S. armed forces in Asia.

The Singapore conference they are attending, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, will bring together representatives from some 20 countries and look into issues of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and maritime security.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow