U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she hopes recent signs of belligerence by North Korea are not a prelude to any deterioration of security in the region. North Korea and its nuclear program are expected to be key issues for the Secretary in her first overseas trip, to Asia, which begins Sunday.

North Korea has in recent weeks annulled military and economic agreements with South Korea and reportedly may be preparing to test another long-range ballistic missile.

But Secretary Clinton, as she prepares for a four-nation Asia mission, is expressing hope that Pyongyang does not upset the peace in the region and will return to the Chinese-led six-party talks on its nuclear program:

"We are hopeful that some of the behavior that we have seen coming from North Korea in the last few weeks is not a precursor of any action that would up the ante, or threaten the stability and peace and security of the neighbors in the region," she said.

Clinton, who will visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China on the week-long trip, reiterated U.S. support for the six-party talks, which stalled late last year over North Korea's refusal to accept a verification regime for its nuclear program.

The Secretary, who spoke at a press appearance with Czech Republic Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,  said Pyongyang has to understand that all its regional neighbors view its recent saber-rattling as unacceptable, and that its interests would be best-served by engagement with the world community.

"There are opportunities for the government and people of North Korea were they to begin, once again, to engage through the Six-Party Talks, through other bilateral and multilateral forums.  And we're hopeful that we'll see that in the weeks and months ahead," she said.

Clinton said she is aware of concerns about North Korea by other participants in the nuclear talks and will discuss with them the most effective way forward.

Pyongyang, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, has shut down and partially disabled its Yongbyon reactor complex in return for fuel oil from other parties to the talks.

But the impasse over verification is blocking the way to the final stage of the process, under which North Korea is to scrap its nuclear program entirely in return for diplomatic benefits and new regional security arrangements.
Officials here said Clinton will be accompanied on her Asia trip by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, who doubled as the chief U.S. envoy to the six-party talks.

Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea is widely reported to be the Obama administration's choice for ambassador to Iraq, but there has been no formal announcement thus far.