NK, Syria dominate G8 talks

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File: G8 foreign ministers have expressed their concern over North Korea's expected missile launch. Picture:

LONDON - G8 foreign ministers shared their deep concerns over North Korea at a meeting in London on Thursday dominated by Pyongyang's nuclear threats as well as the bloody conflict in Syria.

North Korea's expected missile launch was first on the agenda, followed by discussions on Iran's nuclear programme and Wednesday's fresh appeals from the Syrian opposition for weapons to fight President Bashar al-Assad, a British official said.

US actress Angelina Jolie also attended a session dedicated to sexual violence in conflict zones, which British Foreign Secretary William Hague has made a priority of his country's chairmanship of the Group of Eight rich nations this year.

The talks, which began with informal meetings and a dinner on Wednesday, have been dominated by the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula and efforts to address the bloodshed in Syria.

The Japanese foreign minister made clear in talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday his deep concerns about North Korea's increasingly threatening behaviour.

Fumio Kishida said Japan was extremely concerned over Pyongyang's intention to restart nuclear facilities in Yongbyong as well as the expected missile launch and threats made against the US and its allies, a Japanese official told Kyodo News.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that Pyongyang was "skating very close to a dangerous line".

Kerry is due to visit South Korea and Japan after he leaves Britain.

The G8 condemned a North Korea missile launch last year and despite their divisions on other issues, is likely to agree on a similar response if this happens again, US officials say.

Russia has close ties to North Korea's key ally China, and is at odds with the US and EU over their support for the opposition in Syria, but says it has "no differences" with Washington over the Korean crisis.

After talks with Kerry on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned however against exacerbating tensions with military manoeuvres - although he did not identify which country he believed was carrying out such manoeuvres.

"On North Korea we have no differences with the United States," Lavrov told reporters. "One just shouldn't scare anyone with military manoeuvres and there's a chance that everything will calm down."

The G8 ministers have also been discussing the conflict in Syria, which is now in its third year and has claimed 70,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

Kerry and Hague met on Wednesday with members of the Syrian opposition, who renewed their appeal for weapons to aid their fight against Assad's regime.

But a top US State Department official said Kerry "didn't promise anything".

"We are always considering a variety of options, we are going to continue to aid the opposition, working with them in terms of what they need, in terms of what we're willing to provide," the official said.

The US and EU are currently providing non-lethal aid such as communications equipment, and are beginning to distribute food and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army, but have stopped short of providing weaponry.

Britain - and until recently France - has been pushing to amend an EU embargo blocking the supply of arms to the rebels, but there are concerns that any weapons supplied may fall into the wrong hands.

This fear was exacerbated by the declaration by one of the top rebel fighting forces in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, of its allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Britain's Foreign Office said on Thursday it was "concerned about terrorist groups getting a foothold in Syria" and insisted: "We identify the recipients of any assistance very carefully."

The "Friends of Syria", a group opposed to Assad's rule comprising the United States, European and Arab countries, will hold its next meeting in Istanbul on April 20.

Another issue on the table in London was Iran, which this week unveiled a new uranium production facility and two extraction mines only days after talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme ended in deadlock.

The ministers also discussed Britain's call for action to end the culture of impunity over the use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts, which is supported by Jolie, a UN special envoy.

-AFP

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