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Clinton Beginning Trip to South and East Asia

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington Saturday on a week-long, four-nation, trip to South and East Asia. She will attend the Kabul conference aimed at shoring up the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.

Clinton will join foreign ministers from dozens of countries from around the world including neighboring Iran at the Kabul conference.

It is the largest international meeting in Afghanistan since the 1970's and is intended to generate support for Mr. Karzai's plans to build security and good governance, and reintegrate reconcilable elements of the Taliban into government security forces.

The United States has supported the Afghan leader's effort to try to draw from the battlefield Taliban members who renounce violence and pledge allegiance to the government, but it has been less enthusiastic about efforts at talks with senior Taliban leaders.

U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke says there is no purely-military solution to the Afghan conflict and thus reintegration is essential. "In every war of this sort, there's always a window for people who want to come in from the cold. This is not a war between two foreign nations. It's a war between people who are Afghans, some of whom may live next door and take sanctuary next door. But they are Afghans. If they are willing to accept red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them," he said.

The Afghan situation is also expected to dominate talks on the first leg of Clinton's trip, in Pakistan. She will meet Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other senior officials and according to Holbrooke will press for closer dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the conflict that extends across their mutual border. "Nothing could be more important to the resolution of the war in Afghanistan that a common understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan on what their strategic purpose is. That's a really important issue and it's one that is a long, arduous complicated process because of the complicated history between the two countries going back to the day that Pakistan became an independent state. So this is a long-standing goal of this administration," he said.

The East Asia segment of the Clinton trip includes a stop in Seoul with defense Secretary Robert Gates for a so-called two-plus-two meeting on regional security with their South Korean counterparts.

It concludes in Hanoi and bilateral meetings with Vietnamese officials and a regional dialogue with ASEAN foreign ministers.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell says the two-plus-two meeting will be an opportunity for Clinton and Gates to reaffirm U.S. support for the Seoul government in the aftermath of the March sinking of a South Korean warship, blamed on North Korea. "We will make clear how pleased we are at the statesmanship and the calm and perseverance that South Korea, and particularly President Lee Myung-bak, have demonstrated in response to this outrage. And I expect that key states in Asia will speak out in support of South Korea and also be very clear at their deep resolve in standing with South Korea against this provocative action on the part of North Korea," he said.

In Hanoi, Clinton and her Vietnamese hosts will mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the former wartime adversaries.

She will have bilateral meetings with several ASEAN foreign ministers and others attending the regional dialogue, and host a meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative countries - Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand - intended to promote regional development and cooperation while protecting the environment.