Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a policy address preceding her trip to Asia beginning Sunday, said the United States is ready to offer North Korea normal relations and a peace treaty if it scraps its nuclear program. The Secretary also announced that military-to-military U.S. ties with China are being renewed.
The Secretary, previewing the four-nation Asian tour that will be her first trip abroad in her new job, called the North Korean nuclear program the most acute challenge to stability in Northeast Asia.
In the most explicit recent comments by the United States on the subject, she told New York's Asia Society that a successful outcome to the Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations on the nuclear issue would mean normal relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
"If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the [Korean] peninsula's long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty, and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people," she said.
The six-party talks have been stalled over North Korea's refusal to accept a verification program for the declaration of its nuclear program it made last June, and Pyongyang has recently stepped up verbal attacks on South Korea amid indications it may test a long range missile.
Clinton said she still sees an opportunity to advance the nuclear negotiations but that it is incumbent on North Korea to avoid any provocative action and unhelpful rhetoric toward its neighbor.
The Secretary later told VOA in an interview that the United States would obviously raise what she termed North Korea's terrible human rights record in any normalization process, but the issue has to be approached in a realistic way that deals first with Pyongyang's threats to its neighbors.
Clinton visits Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and finally China on the trip spanning a full week that will also focus on ways to stimulate the sagging global economy and world trade.
She said a positive, cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship is vital to peace and prosperity not only in Asia but worldwide and said that a China on the rise is not necessarily a U.S. adversary.
In a sign of diminishing U.S.-Chinese tensions over Taiwan, she said the two powers are restarting military contacts halted by China last year over U.S. arms sales to the island.
"Our two countries, I'm happy to say, will resume mid-level military-to-military discussions later this month, and we look forward to further improved relations across the Taiwan straits," she said. "Even with our differences the United States will remain committed to pursuing a positive relationship with China."
Clinton said the centerpiece of her stop in Japan will be the signing of an agreement moving 8,000 U.S. military personnel from Japan to the U.S. Pacific island of Guam, in a effort to further ease friction caused by the American troop presence in Japan.
The secretary of state commended Indonesia, where she noted President Obama spent four years of his childhood, for settling the conflict in Aceh and for efforts for peace and stability in East Timor.
She told VOA the Obama administration wants to re-enage with Indonesia and its partners in ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian nations - to work collectively to work for improved human rights conditions in Burma.