- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

NEW YORK — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday joined the chorus of voices urging the Bush administration to deal directly with North Korea and Iran on nuclear-energy concerns, saying that a willingness to talk is not a weakness.

“We cannot leave the Middle East to solve itself or avoid talks with North Korea,” said the New York Democrat, who is coasting to re-election next week. “Direct negotiations are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of leadership.”

In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations here yesterday, Mrs. Clinton argued that U.S. foreign policy must be both realistic and idealistic.

On North Korea, she said, the Bush administration has operated with “a narrow and self-reinforcing worldview.”

“We have had six years of policy with no carrots, no sticks and nothing to show for it. Now we have fewer options and a much more difficult task,” she said.

She spoke hours after Pyongyang agreed to return to the six-party talks with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

South Korea, Japan, Russia and many European nations also have urged Washington to send an envoy for bilateral talks with North Korea.

A former State Department Korea desk director urged President Bush last week to initiate direct talks with North Korea, during which the United States would seek a comprehensive deal to end the nuclear crisis.

David Straub, now an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said the U.S. has a “fundamental problem” dealing with North Korea on an issue that can be resolved only through bilateral talks.

“Other parties of the six-party talks are already blaming us for not having bilateral talks with North Korea,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton, in what was billed as a major foreign-policy address, said that by failing to take a more active and flexible lead on trouble spots around the world, the United States was allowing China and sometimes Russia to play leading diplomatic roles.

This is especially true of international negotiations with Iran, Sudan, North Korea and other areas where, she said, Beijing’s business and political interests do not necessarily match Washington’s.

The former first lady said the United States should make better use of the United Nations in cases in which it does not have a lot of options to deal with rogue regimes.

“But we need to create a new level of responsible leadership for nations that are now taking leadership in the world,” she said, referring to Russia and China.

A majority of Americans want the United States to hold direct talks with North Korea without preconditions, according to an October survey of 1,058 adults by the Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks.

About 55 percent of the respondents said the United States should start talks without any conditions, pollsters found, a notion that is slightly more popular with those who identified themselves as Democrats than Republicans.

Conversely, 39 percent of respondents said North Korea and Iran should suspend their weapons programs before the administration agrees to engage them.

• Se Jeong Kim contributed to this report from Washington.

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