Clinton focuses on North Korea during Japan trip

February 18th, 2009 - 6:27 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaTokyo, Feb 18 (DPA) The world’s two largest economies presented a united front toward North Korea Tuesday during a visit to Tokyo by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, agreeing to apply more pressure to force the dictatorship to give up its nuclear weapons programme.
“We must advance our efforts to secure the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea,” Clinton said, adding that North Korea’s threats to test fire a long-range missile would “be very unhelpful.”

Washington is committed to dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and prevention of further proliferation by Pyongyang, Clinton said, referring to President Barack Obama’s inauguration address.

The US president said his government would “reach out a hand to those with whom they have differences so long as they unclench their fists.”

If North Korea abides by the obligations and “verifiably and completely” eliminates its nuclear programme, the US would respond accordingly with a reciprocal response that could include normalized relations, a peace treaty and assistance for its people, the state secretary said.

“It is truly up to the North Koreans,” Clinton said.

Clinton and Nakasone also confirmed the importance of close coordination in six-nation talks aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Besides the United States and Japan, those talks involve China, the two Koreas and Russia.

While Japan had been worried that the United States would neglect North Korean abductee issues, the foreign minister said Clinton’s meeting Tuesday with families of Japanese abductees by North Korean agents signifies her government’s concern about the issue.

Japanese officials were also heartened by the fact that Clinton’s first overseas visit was to Japan. Japanese officials had worried that the new US administration would give US-Chinese relations a greater priority over relations with Japan.

The two top diplomats also economic challenges that the world faces and reaffirmed the importance of responding jointly to the financial crisis.

To deal with the issue, the United States Tuesday invited Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to be the first foreign leader to meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House Feb 24, ahead of the financial summit scheduled in London on April 2.

Nakasone said the two nations were in agreement over the need to cooperate to revive their respective economies.

However, the United States also called on Japan to shoulder a greater burden in bringing the global financial crisis to an end. But the meeting comes at a time when Japan is undergoing its worst economic crisis in the post-war era. Its economy shrank in the October-December period at the fastest pace in 35 years.

Indeed, Japan has been hit harder by recession than the United States, threatening the stability of Aso’s regime before elections that have to be called by this autumn at the latest.

On top of that, Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa submitted his resignation during Clinton’s visit over an embarrassing weekend appearance in which he was accused of being intoxicated.

On anti-terrorism cooperation, Clinton said the United States appreciated Japan’s assistance to the US-led coalition mission in Afghanistan, for which it provides refuelling support for allied ships in the Indian Ocean.

But Clinton told Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada in their meeting later in the day that she hoped to encourage “more engagement” by Tokyo in peacekeeping operations, while indicating her understanding of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

“The alliance between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone of our foreign policy,” Clinton said after she and Nakasone signed an accord on the transfer of 8,000 US military personnel and their families from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to the US territory of Guam by 2014.

Japan committed itself to paying about $6 billion of the $10.3-billion cost of the move.

Clinton cited the military relocation as an example showing that Washington and Tokyo enjoy a “strong and vibrant alliance.”

“Working together to deal with the multitude of issues that affect not only Asia but the entire world is the high priority of the Obama administration,” the diplomat said.

Clinton ends her three-day visit to Japan when she departs Wednesday. Her Asia trip also includes visits to Indonesia, South Korea and China.

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