Wary US looks to calm rising tensions in Asia

Alarmed by a rise in nationalist sentiment around the Asia-Pacific, the Obama administration is looking for Russia to play a greater role in the region as it seeks to quell growing maritime tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to meet on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at meeting of Pacific Rim leaders to gauge Moscow's intentions as it looks increasingly eastward after decades of European orientation. U.S. officials say they would welcome a more active Russian role in the Asia-Pacific where territorial disputes, including between U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, sparked by nationalist rhetoric have fueled fears of conflict.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton said Russia's engagement in the region has until now been "episodic," not very active and primarily focused on the six-nation effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

Now, with Putin actively promoting Russian greater economic and strategic ties with Asia and hosting the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in much spruced up Vladivostok, Clinton is eager to hear what his "goals and ambitions" are and how they might complement U.S. efforts, particularly in easing strains that could interfere with oceangoing commerce in the Pacific, the official said.

The official said the United States wanted to see more "sustained" Russian interest in the Asia-Pacific.

Clinton began Saturday by signing an agreement with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that will enhance U.S.-Russia scientific cooperation in the Antarctic, as well as link national parks on either side of the Bering Strait.

With Lavrov, she also stressed the importance of dealing with the ongoing crisis in Syria, where Russia, along with China, has blocked U.N. action that would penalize the Syrian regime for refusing to allow a political transition, a second U.S. official said. The pair also discussed efforts to get Iran to comply with international demands to prove its nuclear program is peaceful, North Korea and boosting trade between the U.S. and Russia, the official said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the talks.

Clinton, who is filling in for President Barack Obama at the summit, has spent the last week in the Asia-Pacific urging peaceful resolutions to competing territorial claims between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. The U.S. wants to see the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China establish quickly a code of conduct for the area to be followed by a mechanism to resolve the conflicts peacefully without intimidation, coercion or clashes.

At the same time, tensions have flared between Japan and South Korea over claims to Dokdu Island and Clinton will see the leaders of both in Vladivostok to express U.S. concerns about their dispute over Dokdu Island and "remind both countries of the importance we place on their determination to work well together," the official said. "We have been concerned by tensions of late between Tokyo and Seoul."

"We've underscored that a positive relationship between Japan and South Korea is in the strategic best interests of the United States, and we'll continue to do so," the official said.

The importance of creating a code of conduct for the South China Sea and ultimately settling sovereignty issues there were topics of discussion between Clinton and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, officials said.