HANOI, Vietnam – The world must be firm but also very cautious when dealing with the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, Russia's foreign minister said Saturday during an Asian-Pacific summit in Vietnam.
It was Russia's latest warning that harsh actions against Iran or North Korea could undermine efforts to resolve the disputes over their nuclear programs.
"The international community is obligated to approach the resolution of the Korean peninsula issue and the issue of the Iranian nuclear program extremely cautiously — firmly but cautiously," Sergey Lavrov said on the sidelines of the summit. "If we force this situation into a corner then the threats of (nuclear) proliferation will significantly increase."
Russia has opposed a European-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran for its refusal to rein in its nuclear program. While China and Russia recently agreed in principle on sanctions, both have pushed for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment. Both countries have major commercial ties with Iran.
Lavrov also said Russia and China agreed to work together to promote a swift resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. The talks involve the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S.
"We agreed to act firmly in respect of North Korea ... and at same time in a way that would allow the six-party talks to be continued," Lavrov said.
A draft statement by the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum expresses "strong concern" about the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test and its missile launches in July, saying they pose "a clear threat" to the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
It urges "concrete steps" by North Korea in living up to commitments to end its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. It also calls for the quick resumption of the six-party talks, which the North last month agreed to rejoin after a yearlong boycott.
But how the leaders would express those concerns underscored the sensitivities of interfering in another nation's affairs. It was likely the statement would be issued orally, and not as part of the declaration released at the end of the summit or even as a separate written document.
Lavrov said the statement would not go beyond — and would in fact repeat — the recent U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea.
Pyongyang, meanwhile, condemned South Korea for backing a separate U.N. draft resolution criticizing the communist regime's human rights abuses.
"South Korean authorities will be held accountable for all consequences to be caused by the crime of creating another obstacle in inter-Korean relations," a spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
A key U.N. committee approved the resolution Friday, criticizing North Korea's public executions, use of torture, and other human rights violations.
The resolution now goes to a plenary meeting of the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly for final approval. Last year, the full assembly approved a similar resolution.
South Korea, which previously abstained on similar votes at various U.N. bodies, voted in favor of Friday's resolution, saying there was an even greater need for cooperation on human rights between North Korea and the international community following Pyongyang's nuclear test.
North Korea denies violating human rights, but it has long been accused of imposing the death penalty for political reasons, holding thousands in prison camps, torturing people who try to cross the border, and severely restricting freedom of expression and religion.