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N Korea at crossroads

ASEAN forum tones down language on North Korea's nuclear program

Statement removes "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization"

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan delivers his closing speech during a press conference following the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Singapore on August 4.   © AP

SINGAPORE -- A statement issued after an international gathering carries watered-down references to North Korea's nuclear program.

The chairman's statement for the ASEAN Regional Forum, a meeting of foreign ministers from across Asia and other key nations, does not include a reference to "the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)" of North Korea -- a phrase used last year.

Dropping the words came at the behest of governments close to the isolated nation.

Instead, the statement refers to "complete denuclearization," a phrase used in the joint statement issued after U.S. President Donald Trump in June met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. and North Korea clashed at the meeting on Saturday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned other nations that they must not ease off sanctions on Pyongyang until Kim gives up his nuclear weapons. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said his nation wouldn't advance denuclearization efforts unless Washington addresses its concerns.

Ri said the U.S. is "raising its voice louder for maintaining sanctions" against his country and is "showing the attitude to retreat even from declaring the end of" the Korean War.

Fighting in that war ended in 1953 after the U.S., North Korea and China signed an armistice. But South Korea and North Korea technically remain at war.

In the statement, the ministers "urged all concerned parties to continue working towards the realization of lasting peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula" and called on Pyongyang to "fulfill its stated commitment to complete denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear and missile tests."

The previous meeting, in Manila, was held in a year during which North Korean was aggressively launching intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducting nuclear detonations. While last summer's statement included CVID, this year's does not because some nations close to North Korea were reluctant to include the expression, according to ASEAN diplomatic sources.

This year's statement also says that "some ministers expressed their readiness to engage in dialogue with North Korea to resolve other outstanding issues, including humanitarian concerns," without specifying the countries.

South China Sea disputes were also a big topic. The foreign ministers "took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area," while they "warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China."

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