- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TOKYO — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has already learned the intricacies of diplomatic talk. She came to Asia on her first foreign trip since taking office with an olive branch for North Korea, but found herself issuing a tough warning.

Before leaving Washington, Mrs. Clinton offered the North Koreans a peace treaty, normal relations and economic aid if it dismantled its nuclear programs. During her flight to Tokyo Sunday, she emphasized the Obama administration’s “flexibility” in dealing with Pyongyang.

Even before she landed, however, the North claimed the right to “space development,” which was widely interpreted as signaling an anticipated missile launch.

Concerned that her conciliatory comments might have been viewed as a sign of softness by Pyongyang, Mrs. Clinton added a layer to her rhetoric Tuesday, warning that any provocative move by the communist state could impede efforts to resolve the nuclear issues in six-nation talks.

“The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” she told reporters. “The decision as to whether North Korea will cooperate in the six-party talks, end provocative language and actions is up to them and we are watching very closely.”

Later, during a town hall meeting at the University of Tokyo, Mrs. Clinton referred to North Korea’s government as a “rogue regime.”

A senior U.S. official traveling with the secretary said any suggestion that she might have been too soft on the North were misplaced, and she was “very firm” in her meetings with Japanese officials that Washington expects Pyongyang to fulfill its 2007 pledge to dismantle its nuclear programs.

“If North Korea abides by the obligations it has already entered into and verifiably and completely eliminates its nuclear program, then there will be a reciprocal response certainly from the United States,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It is truly up to the North Koreans.”

The secretary applied another diplomatic rule Tuesday, steering clear of comments that can be interpreted as interference in another country’s affairs.

Hours before she met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, his beleaguered government was dealt a fresh blow when Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa resigned, following accusations that he was drunk during a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Rome on the weekend.

“I apologize for causing such a big fuss,” he said at a hastily arranged press conference. “I plan to submit a formal resignation as soon the budget and related legislation are passed by the [parliament’s] lower house.”

He has denied he was drunk, saying he appeared groggy because he had taken cold medicine and was suffering from jet lag. TV footage from Rome showed him looking drowsy and confused and slurring his speech.

Mrs. Clinton did not comment on the scandal, but she invited Mr. Aso on behalf of President Obama to visit the White House next week.

“This will be the first foreign-leader visit that President Obama will be receiving at the White House,” she said in reference to the Feb. 24 visit. “The alliance between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone of our foreign policy.”

The secretary and Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone signed an agreement to move about 8,000 of the 50,000 U.S. troops on the island of Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

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