Clinton Talks Tough On North Korea

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to discuss, among other things, North Korea. Pyongyang has been firing missiles and holding two American journalists.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to talk tough today on North Korea. She was pushing countries in Southeast Asia to enforce U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang. Clinton told reporters that she's trying to change the equation for Iran, asserting that nuclear weapons will not make Iran safer, especially if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the Persian Gulf.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In the Thai resort town of Phuket, Secretary Clinton held back-to-back meetings, some of them with governments involved in the stalled nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea. When she appeared in front of the cameras, she said that there's a sense of unity among the U.S., Russia, China and others.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization, that the United States, as well as our partners, will move forward on a package of incentives and opportunities, including normalizing relations that will give the people of North Korea a better future.

KELEMEN: But she said the U.S. won't reward North Korea just for returning to the negotiating table. She also said that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, and she argued that she wasn't implying any change in policy when she seemed to suggest earlier in the day that the U.S. is thinking about how to live with a nuclear-armed Iran by setting up a system of deterrents.

Sec. CLINTON: We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.

KELEMEN: That wasn't exactly the venue where she thought she'd be making news on Iran. Clinton was taking part in a lively TV talk show, hosted by Futchi Tai Yun(ph) who questioned her about all sorts of regional and global issues before delving deeply into U.S. politics. Clinton said that when President Obama asked her to take on the job, she suggested other candidates to be his secretary of state, but President Obama was very persuasive.

(Soundbite of Thai TV program)

Sec. CLINTON: And he gave me an enormous amount of authority as secretary of State, and really everything I asked for so that I could do the job that he wanted me to do, he agreed to, and I was running out of excuses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I remember late one night, I said, oh, I don't know. I mean, you're really making this hard for me, and he goes: I mean to make it hard for you. I want you to take this position.

Mr. FUTCHI TAI YUN (Talk Show Host): Did you consult your husband?

Sec. CLINTON: Of course, of course.

Mr. YUN: You did?

Sec. CLINTON: Yes.

KELEMEN: Yun and his co-host also tried to find out if Hillary Clinton has any further ambition to become president. She said she's not thinking at all about that, not with such a demanding job.

Sec. CLINTON: I'm a hundred percent focused on it, and in our country, when you're in the secretary of State position, you're out of politics. So I'm not involved in our domestic politics at all, and that's fine with me because this job is so demanding.

Mr. YUN: You've given up hope to be the first lady president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. CLINTON: Well, I've got a very demanding and exciting job right now, and I'm not somebody who looks ahead. You know, I don't know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life.

Unidentified Woman: So it's wait and see.

Sec. CLINTON: No, no, no, no. I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YUN: Never say never.

KELEMEN: She said running for president is just not on her radar. Clinton said the U.S. campaign offers lessons for Thailand, where she joked that politics are as spicy as the food. She said that in the U.S., when the election is over, the president is the president, and you want to help him succeed.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Phuket.

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U.S. Steps Up Commitment To Southeast Asia

Secretary Clinton with ASEAN foreign ministers i

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with Southeast Asia foreign ministers in Thailand after signing a friendship treaty. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton with ASEAN foreign ministers

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with Southeast Asia foreign ministers in Thailand after signing a friendship treaty.

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday issued what she called "a strong statement" of U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia by signing a commitment to peacefully resolve disputes in the region.

The signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation marks a big change in U.S. engagement with the region since the Vietnam War, and emphasizes Washington's focus as the region comes increasingly under the economic influence of China.

It comes during Clinton's visit to Thailand for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

Clinton used the forum to warn North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program or face further isolation through international sanctions. She also appealed to the military rulers of Myanmar to release imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, offering the prospects of future U.S. investment if the nation also known as Burma cooperates.

The ASEAN summit has become increasingly important to the U.S. and to Southeast Asia. Here's more about the alliance:

What Is ASEAN?

An association of 10 member countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

It was formed in 1967, during the Vietnam War, by five original members, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand as a forum for resolving disputes among member nations.

Today, ASEAN is increasingly seen as a potential economic force. As of 2006, ASEAN members boasted a regional population of around 560 million people, with a combined gross domestic product of almost $1.1 trillion.

What Is The ASEAN Regional Forum?

The forum is a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers to focus on security concerns ahead of a summit of ASEAN leaders scheduled for October. Because Thailand holds the rotating chairmanship of the organization for this year, the meeting is being held on the Thai resort island of Phuket. Representatives of other nations are also taking part, including Clinton.

What Are Some Key U.S. Interests At This Meeting?

Clinton has already raised subjects high on the agenda: North Korea's nuclear ambitions and the prospect that North Korea may be forging military ties to Myanmar. A ship thought to be en route from North Korea to Myanmar last month mysteriously turned back, after it came under international scrutiny.

The U.S. and other nations fear that North Korea may be trying to sell missile or even nuclear technology to Myanmar's ruling junta.

Challenges For ASEAN

One of ASEAN's biggest problems, says Muthiah Alagappa, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, is that it has operates by consensus and has a strict policy against interfering in the internal affairs of its members. That, he says, often results in policies that reflect "the lowest common denominator."

Alagappa says that limits the alliance's ability to deal with issues like human rights and pollution.

Alagappa says lack of consensus is preventing the organization from dealing with its most severe environmental problem, the cloud of brown haze that often chokes parts of Malaysia and Singapore. The haze comes from the smoke of slash-and-burn farming practices and forest fires in Indonesia.

ASEAN's inability to intervene in the internal affairs of members, Alagappa says, means that "even very non-intrusive measures have not been implemented to control the haze."



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