Clinton Worried By N. Korea-Myanmar Ties

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised concerns Tuesday about a growing military relationship between North Korea and Myanmar. Such cooperation between two repressive regimes would be destabilizing to the region, she said, and would pose a direct threat to Myanmar's neighbors.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand at NPR West in California.


And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Thailand at a regional conference where she hopes to get governments to take a harder line on North Korea and Myanmar, or Burma. Clinton also is raising concerns about the budding relationship between those two repressive regimes, a relationship she says would be destabilizing to Southeast Asia.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: As the secretary tries to get more countries to tighten sanctions on North Korea, she's trying to show that the U.S. is offering Pyongyang a stark choice.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Now, there are obviously a list of incentives and offers that could be made if the North Koreans evidence any willingness to take a different path than the one that they are currently pursuing. As of this moment in time, we haven't seen that evidence.

KELEMEN: She says she has no plans to meet with the North Korean delegation at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' regional forum in Phuket, Thailand. But she and others left open the possibility of some interaction between lower-level U.S. and North Korean officials. She's also drawing attention to North Korea's relationship with Myanmar, or Burma, which is a member of ASEAN.

Sec. CLINTON: We know that there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously. It would be destabilizing for the region. It would pose a direct threat to Burma's neighbors. And it is something as a treaty ally of Thailand that we are taking very seriously.

KELEMEN: Earlier this summer, the U.S. Navy tracked a North Korean ship that was believed to be heading to Myanmar, possibly with weapons on board. It eventually turned back. There have since been reports that the North Koreans are building tunnels in Myanmar and suspicions that Pyongyang may be helping Myanmar with a nuclear program. Senior administration officials would only say U.S. intelligence on that matter is incomplete.

The U.S. policy review on Myanmar is also incomplete, as Washington waits to see what happens with opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's latest trial, a trial that keeps getting postponed. Clinton suggested that the U.S. is looking beyond the usual sanctions approach.

Sec. CLINTON: Our position is that we are willing to have a more productive partnership with Burma if they take steps that are self-evident - you know, end the violence against their own people, including the minorities that they have been focused on in the last months, end the mistreatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

KELEMEN: And release other political prisoners. Secretary Clinton says she's talking to countries in the region about how to influence Myanmar's military regime. Her trip here has a regional goal as well.

Sec. CLINTON: I want to send a very clear message that the United States is back, that we are fully engaged and committed to our relationships in Southeast Asia.

KELEMEN: That's why the Obama administration decided to sign the regional group's nonviolence pact, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which countries in this region see as symbolically important.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Bangkok.

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