- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

UPDATED:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that military talks between the United States and China will resume this month for the first time since Beijing suspended them over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan last year.

Two days before heading to Asia on her first overseas trip since taking office, Mrs. Clinton also reiterated Washington’s pledge — first made by the Bush administration — to establish diplomatic ties with North Korea, sign a peace treaty and provide energy and economic aid if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons programs.

“It is in our interest to work harder to build on areas of common concern and shared opportunities,” she said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York. “I’m happy to say, our two countries will resume mid-level, military-to-military discussions later this month.”

Mrs. Clinton also called on the North to avoid provocative rhetoric and steps toward South Korea that could complicate six-nation nuclear talks.

The secretary, who chided the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to Asia, said her trip is meant to show the Obama administration’s commitment to the continent. She is scheduled to visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China next week.

“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 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.

While in Tokyo, she said she will meet with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago to tell them that the U.S. has not forgotten their plight.

In China, she said she will explore ways to strengthen cooperation in various areas and rejected suggestions that China’s rise is a threat to the U.S. At the same time, she said she will not shy away from discussing human rights.

“As part of our dialogues, we will hold ourselves and others accountable as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those rights,” Mrs. Clinton said. “One where Nobel Prize-winner [and Myanmar’s opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi can live freely in her own country … where the people of North Korea can freely choose their own leaders, and where Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious freedom without fear of prosecution.”

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