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Asian Leaders Talk Energy, Regional Security at Summit

Leaders from Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, China and South Korea met Monday to sign an agreement to help reduce their dependence on conventional fuels and seek new energy sources.

The East Asia conclave comes two days after the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations completed its annual summit in the central Philippine city of Cebu, vowing to strengthen political solidarity, fight terrorism and create a free trade zone by 2015.

The ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from six Asian economic powerhouses were set to sign a declaration on East Asian energy security and discuss investments in regional infrastructure, according to a final version of a draft agreement.

"The fact that the leaders of 16 great nations are here is a testament to the desire of leaders and their people for greater collaboration between the nations," Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in her opening statement.

They also were expected to urge North Korea to return to international talks aimed at getting it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The most recent round of talks on the issue broke down without progress last month in Beijing.

On Sunday, South Korea's President Roh Moo Hyun, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concern over North Korea's nuclear test, and restated the need to fully carry out U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.

Other issues on the agenda are steps to eradicate poverty, improve education and cooperate in dealing with natural disasters. The leaders are expected to call for the successful conclusion of the Doha round of the World Trade Organization talks.

"The most important topic will be about the energy security because we have a draft resolution for the leaders to consider," said ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong. He said Japan has suggested a proposal for a comprehensive economic partnership in East Asia.

The Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security calls for moves to improve energy efficiency and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, while urging countries to expand renewable energy systems and biofuel production and "for interested parties, civilian nuclear power," according to the draft of the declaration.

It also calls for mitigating greenhouse gas emission and ensuring a stable supply of energy "through investments in regional infrastructure such as the ASEAN power grid and the trans-ASEAN gas pipeline."

The leaders also will agree to explore strategic fuel stockpiling to reduce their dependence on oil imports, according to the draft.

The East Asia summit was first held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005 as India, Australia and New Zealand sought more active roles in regional issues. "This year it's more focused on substance," Ong said, adding that the first meeting was more of a "housewarming party, everybody came and got to know each other."

ASEAN's members are the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.