Pacific Rim talks focus on North Korea as politics overtake economics

Trade ministers tried to keep the Pacific Rim summit focused on its economic agenda Wednesday as sideline discussions on North Korea's nuclear weapons program threatened to steal the show.

The 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is hoping to find ways to kick-start stalled World Trade Organization talks. But with so many top officials in one place, it also is a chance to meet face-to-face to discuss security issues that have risen in priority since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

This is the first big meeting since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on Oct. 9, then agreed earlier this month to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program that have been stalled for a year. Officials were taking advantage of the opportunity to work out a common strategy.

"We had some in-depth, substantive discussions on what outcome we should try to achieve," top South Korean nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo said after meeting for two hours with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts one of at least three sets of talks on the issue. "I think we're making good progress."

Chun warned of the consequences of being unable to convince North Korea to drop its atomic weapons program when the six-party talks resume, probably next month, reports AP.

"We cannot afford to fail," he said.

Hill said it was crucial to plan "very carefully" for the talks.

"No one China, nor Russia nor any of the three of us has any intention of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state. I think we've all made that very clear," U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said after meeting with the Japanese and South Korean envoys.