US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Friday to deepen US bonds with Asia in order to tackle the global economic crisis and climate change as well as prevent nuclear proliferation.
On the eve of her tour of Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, her first foreign trip, Clinton said in a speech she is “ready to deliver a message about America’s desire for more rigorous and persistent commitment and engagement.”
She added she is “ready to work with leaders in Asia to resolve the economic crisis…(and) to strengthen our historic partnerships and alliances while developing deeper bonds with all nations.”
In her first foreign policy speech, which she delivered before the Asia Society, a non-profit educational institution, Clinton said she also is “ready to help prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Asia.”
Clinton added that North Korea’s nuclear programme remains “the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia.”
She said President Barack Obama’s administration would build a strong relationship with the reclusive Stalinist regime if it scraps its nuclear programme, which alarmed the world in 2006 with the test of a nuclear device.
If Pyongyang “completely and verifiably” eliminates the programme, Washington “will be willing to normalise bilateral relations, replace the peninsula’s longstanding armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty.”
She added Washington would also “assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people,” who face hunger and economic hardships.
Under a landmark deal in 2007 with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, North Korea agreed to eliminate its weapons-grade nuclear programmes in exchange for energy aid.
The talks stalled late last year when North Korea balked at its five partners’ demands for inspections and other steps to verify disarmament.
Clinton also said it is “incumbent on North Korea to avoid any provocative action and unhelpful rhetoric toward South Korea,” after North Korea scrapped military accords with the South in the last few weeks.
Reports from South Korea also say it is preparing for the launch of a long-range missile.
Analysts say such a launch would be intended to put pressure on South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to drop his harder line, and to persuade US President Barack Obama to make the North one of his policy priorities.
As part of the multilateral nuclear disarmament talks, Japan has tried to determine the fate of Japanese citizens whom North Korea abducted during the Cold War to train its spies, but it fears Washington has put it on the back burner.
Clinton vowed to meet with some of the families of the abducted to show that the United States has not forgotten them.
She also sought to assure Japan about the enduring nature of the security alliance with the United States, saying it “has been and must remain unshakable.”
In Tokyo, she will sign the Guam International Agreement, which will move 8,000 US troops from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam, a Pacific island and US territory.
Analysts say Clinton appears to have chosen Japan as her first stop to smooth feathers she ruffled when she wrote during the presidential campaign that the US-China relationship will be the most important one.
Clinton stressed that climate change would be a key topic on her visit, particularly with China’s rapid industrial growth.
“Climate change is not just an environmental nor an energy issue, but also has implications for our health, our economies and our security,” Clinton said.
Accompanying her to Asia is Todd Stern, her special envoy for climate change, to “begin the discussions that we hope will create the opportunities for cooperation,” she said.
She set a conciliatory tone after eight-years of president George W. Bush’s administration, who minimised the threat from global warming and rejected the Kyoto protocol.
“Our nation has been the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases and we acknowledge that we must lead efforts to cut harmful emissions and build a lower carbon economy,” Clinton said.
But she expected the governments in Asia to reciprocate.
“I will press the case for clean energy in both Japan and South Korea and look for ways to work with Indonesia as well,” Clinton said.
Clinton is due to visit Japan February 16-18, Indonesia from February 18-19, South Korea February 19-20, and China February 20-22.