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Asia: APEC Leaders Agree On Trade, Discuss North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso at the summit (epa) November 18, 2006 -- Leaders attending the first day of a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam have pledged to revive stalled world trade talks that broke down in July.

APEC accounts for about 70 percent of global economic output and half of world trade.

The Doha round of global trade talks collapsed in July amid disputes over farm subsidies among six key players -- the European Union, India and Brazil, and APEC members the United States, Australia, and Japan.

But today in Hanoi, APEC leaders said they are ready to break the deadlock.

The leaders of APEC, a 21-nation grouping that includes a diverse economic mix from giants China, Russia, and the United States to tiny Brunei, said the Doha Round must resume to continue global economic growth and alleviate poverty.

An APEC statement today also said the leaders vowed to make "real cuts" in industrial tariffs, and establish new openings in services trade.

However, it remains unclear just how compromise will be reached.

North Korea Discussions

On North Korea, meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush failed to win South Korean support for a tough U.S.-led inspection program. The program seeks to inspect North Korean ships in a bid to keep Pyongyang from acquiring more nuclear or missile technology.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, told reporters in Hanoi that the international community must be firm but "very cautious" in dealing with both the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.

Lavrov warned that harsh actions against Pyongyang or Tehran could undermine efforts to resolve the disputes and increase the threat of nuclear proliferation. But he also said he was optimistic about the possible resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, despite Pyongyang's recent nuclear test.

"Now we are back to the negotiating table. The situation has not improved since [six-party talks with North Korea collapsed last year], with the testing of the nuclear device by North Korea," Lavrov said. "But the main fact is that there is an agreement to resume the talks. And I hope they would be successful, eventually."

Leaders at the forum are expected to issue a joint statement that calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and return to international talks.

The North Korean crisis directly impacts regional security arrangements. Japan is particularly concerned, with some there calling for the country to develop its own nuclear deterrent to Pyongyang.

Bush addressed Tokyo’s concerns today after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"We spent a lot of time talking about bilateral issues. And one of the most interesting issues we discussed was our common desire to continue to cooperate on ballistic missile defense," Bush said.

On November 19 in Hanoi, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend the signing of a bilateral accord on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.