Clinton to Deliver Message of 'Engagement' on Asia Trip

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Sunday that the United States would work with Asia on a wider range of global issues, including climate change and the economy.

On her first mission overseas as President Barack Obama's chief diplomat, Clinton said her choice of destinations was intended to demonstrate a new U.S. commitment to work with Asian leaders on "problems that no one nation, including ours, can deal with alone."

The administration's goal, she said, is to push climate change and the global financial crisis to or near the top of the agenda. Ongoing issues like North Korea's nuclear programs and human rights in China will remain priorities, she added.

"This region is indispensable to our efforts to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the 21st century," Clinton told reporters aboard her plane before a refueling stop in Alaska. Her first Asian stop is in Japan, followed by Indonesia, South Korea and China.

In Tokyo, Clinton will try to reassure a jittery nation of the importance the United States places on ties with Japan and will sign an agreement to move about 8,000 of the 50,000 Marines on the island of Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

In a nod toward Japan's role in international affairs, Clinton is also expected to announce that she will send the special U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan to a Japanese-hosted donors conference for Pakistan.

North Korea is likely to loom large in Clinton's meetings in Japan, South Korea and China. She warned North Korea in a speech last week against any "provocative action and unhelpful rhetoric" amid signs it is preparing for a long-range missile launch.

Still, Clinton said the United States is ready to engage with North Korea -- and sign a formal peace treaty ending the 1950-53 Korean War -- but only after Pyongyang gets rid of its nuclear programs through now stalled six-nation negotiations.

"When they move forward on presenting a verifiable and complete dismantling and complete denuclearization, we'd have a great openness to working with them," she said Sunday.

Prior to that comment, North Korea's No. 2 leader said Sunday the communist nation was ready to improve relations with "friendly" countries, a possible olive branch to Washington despite reports the North is gearing up for a missile launch.

Clinton is also promising to meet with the families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. "We do want to press the North Koreans to be more forthcoming with information," she said.

In Indonesia, Clinton will stress a new U.S. willingness to engage with Southeast Asian nations, many of which felt neglected by the Bush administration.

She is expected to announce in Jakarta that she will attend the annual meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand later this year. She is also expected to signal the administration's intention to sign the group's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which Bush had declined to do.

On her final stop, in China, Clinton's agenda will be broadest, encompassing the full sweep of the economic crisis, global warming, clean energy, North Korea and health issues. Human rights groups have expressed concern that their issue has been relegated to the sidelines by the Obama administration.

Clinton would not say whether she would meet any human rights activists during her stay in Beijing, but noted that she would attend a town hall meeting and a church where the subject might be raised.

"We're not going to be shying away from talking about human rights issues, but we have a very broad agenda to deal with when it comes to dealing with China," she said. "It's fair to say that this first trip will be one intended to really find a path forward to have as robust an engagement as possible on a range of issues."