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East Asian Leaders Call for N. Korea to Abandon Nuclear Program

Leaders of 16 Asia-Pacific countries have pledged to speed up economic integration, and have called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. The statements came at the end of the East Asia Summit meeting in the Philippine city of Cebu, where VOA's Heda Bayron has filed this report.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says progress over the past several days among leaders and foreign ministers from Southeast Asia and its Asia-Pacific neighbors has bought the region a step closer to full economic integration.

Mrs. Arroyo says the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, which held its separate summit meeting here Saturday and Sunday, can play a key role in reaching that goal.

"We can become a dynamo as the hub and core of East Asia immersed in robust, open trade from within the region and across the oceans," she said.

ASEAN wants to create a common market for its 10 members by 2015, and eventually expand that to include its six major regional trading partners: Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Such a bloc would include almost half the world's population, and a fifth of its current world trade.

On Monday, as leaders of all 16 nations gathered in Cebu for the second annual East Asia Summit, the leaders pledged to accelerate regional free trade.

Agreement on a wide range of issues has been reached here over the past week, from trade and investments, to migrant workers' rights, to cooperation on counterterrorism.

North Korea's nuclear ambitions have featured prominently in the talks. Meeting for the first time since North Korea's October nuclear test, Mrs. Arroyo reiterated the leaders' call for Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs.

"We urge North Korea to take concrete and effective steps toward the full implementation of the Joint statement of September 19 of 2005," she said.

In that 2005 statement, the North pledged to end its nuclear programs, in exchange for economic and security guarantees from the United States and other countries.

Japan, South Korea and the U.S., along with China and Russia, North Korea's traditional allies, have been trying for the last three years to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programs.

The last round of negotiations ended in December with no progress. Pyongyang and Washington are at odds over financial sanctions imposed by Washington to halt Pyongyang's alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities. The North Koreans want those sanctions lifted as a precondition for any concessions on the nuclear issue.

On Monday, the Asian leaders also called on Pyongyang for the first time to address the issue of Japanese and South Koreans abducted by North Korean agents over the past several decades.

The leaders agreed to cut dependence on oil and to seek renewable energy supplies, at a time when high oil prices and rapid economic growth raise competition among Asian nations for new energy sources.