U.S. Wants Rigorous, Persistent Engagement in Asia, Clinton Says

North Korea offered normalization, peace pact to abandon nuclear weapons

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.

Washington (RushPRnews) 02/16/09-— Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says that the United States wants a more rigorous and persistent commitment and engagement with East Asia across an array of issues from the current economic crisis to nuclear proliferation, climate change, clean energy, health and income.

In her first solo foreign mission, Clinton visits Japan February 16–18, and then travels to Indonesia February 18–19 before heading to South Korea February 19–20, and concluding the trip in China February 20–22.

“Our relationships with each of the countries I’m visiting, and with all of our partners and allies throughout Asia and the Pacific, are indispensable to our security and prosperity,” Clinton said February 13 at the Asia Society in New York.

“We are ready to listen. Actively listening to our partners isn’t just a way of demonstrating respect,” she said. “It can also be a source of ideas to fuel our common efforts.”

Clinton said she chose to make East Asia her first stop because of its strategic importance and the ever-increasing role it plays across the U.S. foreign policy spectrum.

“Given the realities of today’s world, we can no longer approach our foreign policy solely country by country or simply by carving the world into separate regions,” she said.
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“In making my first trip as secretary of state to Asia, I hope to signal that we need strong partners across the Pacific, just as we need strong partners across the Atlantic,” Clinton said. “Our relationships with each of the countries I’m visiting, and with all of our partners and allies throughout Asia and the Pacific, are indispensable to our security and prosperity.”

NORTH KOREA AND PROLIFERATION

Clinton will discuss with Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials how best to get the Six-Party Talks back on track. The talks are aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions and making the Korean Peninsula nuclear free. China, Japan and South Korea, along with Russia and North Korea and the United States, are involved in the talks. The secretary said there is an opportunity to get the talks going again so long as North Korea avoids committing any provocative acts like test firing long-range missiles in the region.

“If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula’s long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty, and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people,” Clinton said on the eve of her four-nation visit to the region.

Six-Party Talks have been stalled since last year, though there are plans for a meeting next month in Moscow. And Clinton added that the United States has not forgotten the families of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea.

Clinton said that the Obama administration does not regard economic development as peripheral to larger foreign policy objectives. “We will energetically promote development around the world, to expand opportunities that enable citizens, particularly on the margin and particularly women and children, to fulfill their God-given potential, which, we happen to believe, will advance our shared security interests,” she said.

And Clinton praised Indonesia, the second nation on her East Asian swing, as a place where human energy and aspiration have combined to help lead the country to a free and fair system of elections, a free press, a robust civil society and a prominent role for women in the government.

“We will support Indonesia and other countries in the region that are actively promoting shared values,” she said.

Clinton also announced that while in Tokyo she will sign with the Japanese government the Guam International Agreement, which will move 8,000 American troops off Okinawa to Guam.

Some international observers have claimed that because China is a rising economic and political force in the region, it is an adversary, Clinton said.

“To the contrary, we believe that the United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other’s successes,” she said. “China has already asserted itself in positive ways as chair of the Six-Party Talks and in its participation in international peacekeeping efforts.”

The United States and China are expected to resume midlevel military-to-military talks later this month.

EMERGING OBAMA STRATEGY

Clinton’s visit to East Asia culminates a month of efforts by the Obama administration to rapidly address and engage on some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the United States and the new presidency. Initially, President Obama began shifting U.S. foreign policy in his first 48 hours in office, leading with the order to close the terrorist detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year.

Acting to reassure allies and foes, Obama has dispatched his special envoy for Middle East peace, former Senator George Mitchell, to the region to begin consultations and to begin a significant reassessment of U.S. policies in the protracted peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Mitchell trip was quickly followed by Vice President Biden’s major speech on American foreign policy objectives at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in Germany.

In that speech, Biden set the tone for a new era of American multilateralism in some of the most vexing security challenges facing the United States and its allies.

Then Obama sent his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, to listen, consult and report back to Washington. One of the issues facing Obama, who has been in office less than a month, is to determine how much to expand troop levels for Afghanistan as he also considers plans to begin the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Finally, Under Secretary of State William Burns just completed a series of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on U.S.-Russian relations, including American missile defense plans in Europe. Burns said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that the United States is open to the possibility of cooperation on missile defense, both with Russia and its NATO partners.

Obama travels to Canada February 19 for talks on issues affecting the Western Hemisphere, and Defense Secretary Gates attends the NATO defense ministers’ informal meeting in Krakow, Poland, February 19–20.

Hillary Clinton speaking at podium (AP Images)

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