Japan's Prime Minister Invited To White House

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her first trip abroad and Japan was her first stop. She called for coordinated action to revive the global economy and invited Japan's prime minister, Taro Aso, to meet with President Obama at the White House next week.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

I'm Steve Inskeep.

And this is what it sounds like when the secretary of state visits Japan. At a Japanese shrine, the sound of the camera shutters seemed like part of the music.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: A drummer and dancing maidens were part of the welcoming party for Hillary Clinton. She arrived just in time to face a challenge from one of Japan's neighbors. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and, Michele, what was that challenge?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, it's North Korea. I mean, intelligence reports have been saying that they're preparing to launch a long-range missile, and Pyongyang said it has the right to do that.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to what Secretary Clinton said in response to that. She said today that a missile launch by North Korea would be unhelpful and then she added this:

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): If North Korea abides by the obligations it has already entered into, and verifiably and completely eliminates its nuclear program, then there will be a reciprocal response, certainly from the United States.

INSKEEP: Help us interpret that, Michele Kelemen. We have these threatening noises from North Korea; we have Hillary Clinton responding by saying there could be a reciprocal response, a positive response from the United States. Is she reaching out a hand to North Korea?

KELEMEN: She does say she's reaching out a hand, but it's up to North Korea to decide what to do about that. And part of what North Korea has to do is back off from these possible provocative actions, such as testing a missile. The other thing to keep in mind is where she's making this case.

Her Japanese counterpart at a news conference today, was asked if he feared that the Obama administration might ease up too much on North Korea. The foreign minister, Nakasone, said he's not concerned that U.S. policy will change in a significant way. So he was reassured by Hillary Clinton. And the secretary did make a point of meeting with families of two Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea decades ago. That's an issue that's high on Japan's agenda in these six-party talks with North Korea.

INSKEEP: Yeah, just a look at the map shows why this is an immediate threat in the minds of Japanese. They're just across the sea, there - North Korea is. We're talking with NPR's Michele Kelemen. She is in Japan traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And I'd like to know, Michele, how is the secretary of state dealing with the situation, or responding to the situation in Japan, where they've got trouble in the government and also trouble in their economy?

KELEMEN: Yeah, indeed. Well, she's talked a lot about the need for the two world's largest economies to get together and help get out of the global financial crisis. But just today, the finance minister here resigned, Japan's prime minister is incredibly low in the polls and she's pretty much avoided talking about that to this point. And in fact, she even extended an invitation to Prime Minister Taro Aso to the White House next week, even though his government might not last very long.

INSKEEP: Has she also tried to talk with ordinary Japanese, who presumably will be around a little bit longer?

KELEMEN: She did. She did this town hall event at Tokyo University that was quite interesting. You know, she had young people really gushing over meeting her - the chance to meet her. And she talked about how she wants America -America wants to listen again, was her message. She wanted to reach out to young people. She talked a lot about elevating climate change - that was a big theme and is going to be a big theme as she heads on later this week to China.

She also talked about how the Obama administration wants a concerted effort to present a different face to the Muslim world. And she's planning to visit Indonesia tomorrow. That's a place where President Obama lived as a child, and it is a large Muslim democracy.

INSKEEP: Michele, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's on her first foreign trip in that office. She's traveling through Asia this week.

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