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APEC Denounces North Korea Test, Vows to Combat Terror

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HANOIóAsia-Pacific leaders vowed on Sunday to free up trade and combat terrorism while condemning North Korea's October 9 nuclear test, as security issues again overshadowed the group's annual meetings.

This year's chairman of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet, said in response to a question at a news conference that North Korea's actions posed "a clear threat to our shared interest of peace and security".

Reading out a statement he delivered earlier to the leaders at their closed-door summit, Triet said they stressed the need to implement U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after the October 9 test and expressed support for six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs.

Asked if the oral rather than written delivery of the message was a setback, David McCormick, a White House National Security Council official, said what mattered was that the statement was "very firm".

"What was important was that the members of APEC came together on a common statement (on North Korea)."

APEC's 21 leaders issued a "Hanoi Declaration" following their summit outlining steps to liberalize commerce in a region that accounts for nearly half of global trade and pledging to "combat terrorism in every form and manifestation".

Protect Financial Systems

The declaration acknowledged the need to take action to "protect legitimate financial and commercial systems from abuse".

This appeared to be a veiled reference to the kind of financial curbs the United States has taken against North Korea over alleged illicit activities such as counterfeiting.

But a section highlighting terrorist threats to rail and mass transit systems in the region and APEC's opposition to trafficking in weapons of mass destructionóboth in an earlier draft seen by Reutersówas deleted in the final text.

No explanation was given, but some APEC members have expressed reservations that a group founded in 1989 to deal with trade and economic issues has been veering too hard in recent years towards security problems such as North Korea.

"I think we're going to have more and more political issues coming up that occupy our attention," Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi told reporters after the summit. "There is a danger we might be derailed from our economic objective."

The U.N. Security Council is the best forum to deal with North Korea's nuclear ambitions, he said.

The leaders held their summit at a new $270 million convention center on the outskirts of the capital before donning traditional Vietnamese ao dai tunics of blue, green, pink, orange and yellow silk for the annual family photo.

On the first day of the summit on Saturday they pledged to make compromises on farm subsidies and industrial tariffs in an "urgent effort" to jump-start the Doha Round of trade talks.

The final declaration said APEC will study forming an Asia-Pacific free trade area as a long-term objective, and recommended models for free trade agreements.

The declaration also called for increased cooperation on to battle bird flu and other pandemics, improve disaster planning and ways to rescue trade in the event of major disruption caused by a terrorist attack or other calamities -- all issues of immediate concern to many countries in the region.

But none of the agreements in the declaration is legally binding for a group that prides itself on operating by consensus.

Coming Out Party

The week-long APEC extravaganza attracted 10,000 officials, businessmen and journalists to Vietnam and was billed as the emerging southeast Asian country's coming-out party.

But, as is often the case at pan-Asian meetings these days, it was North Korea that dominated the headlines.

All the countries involved in six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear programs were in Hanoi except for the North itself. Pyongyang has agreed to return to the negotiating table after a year-long hiatus but no date has been set.

As well as the summit, U.S. President George W. Bush squeezed in meetings with Chinese Leader Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a last swirl of talks before he left for Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

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