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On Asia Tour, Clinton Issues Warnings to N. Korea, Iran

July 22, 2009 at 7:40 PM EDT
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The United States does "not intend to reward North Korea" simply for returning to negotiations over its nuclear ambitions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday on a trip to Asia. Regional experts analyze her visit with Margaret Warner.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Secretary of State Clinton’s mission to Asia. Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Smiles and ceremony greeted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Thai resort town of Phuket, the latest stop on her Asian tour. She was there for a summit of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a meeting occasionally skipped by her predecessor. This is Clinton’s second major trip to the region.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: The United States is back in Southeast Asia. President Obama and I believe that this region is vital to global progress, peace and prosperity.

MARGARET WARNER: But after cordial diplomacy came tough words for North Korea and Iran. At a press conference after meeting her counterparts, Clinton declared they’d agreed North Korea must fully abandon its nuclear program.

HILLARY CLINTON: Complete and irreversible denuclearization is the only viable path for North Korea. We do not intend to reward North Korea just for returning to the table; nor do we intend to reward them for actions they have already committed to taking and then reneged on.

The path is open to them, and it is up to them to follow it. Unless and until they do, they will face international isolation and the unrelenting pressure of global sanctions.

MARGARET WARNER: She also called on the repressive government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, to release jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. And she expressed concerns that Myanmar might be angling to get nuclear technology from North Korea.

HILLARY CLINTON: So we worry about the transfer of nuclear technology and other dangerous weapons…

JOURNALIST: From North Korean, you mean?

HILLARY CLINTON: We do, from North Korea, yes.

JOURNALIST: To Burma?

HILLARY CLINTON: To Burma, yes.

JOURNALIST: So you’re concerned about the closer ties between North Korea and Burma?

HILLARY CLINTON: Yes.

Diplomatic flap

MARGARET WARNER: At a town hall meeting earlier in the day, she caused a diplomatic flap with this admonition to Iran about pursuing its nuclear program.

HILLARY CLINTON: If the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.

MARGARET WARNER: After Israeli officials protested the U.S. was suggesting it had "already come to terms with a nuclear Iran," Clinton insisted there was no change in the U.S. position.

The secretary began her Asian tour in India. She reaffirmed the partnership of the Bush years, with agreements on arms sales and on beginning a strategic dialogue on issues ranging from nonproliferation to the environment.

But she ran into unexpectedly strong public resistance on climate change from India's environment minister.

JAIRAM RAMESH, environment and forests minister, India: India's position is -- I would like to make it clear and categorical -- India's position is that we are simply not in a position to take on legally binding emission reduction targets.

MARGARET WARNER: Developing countries like India don't want to be forced to slow growth in the name of reducing emissions. Clinton sought to ease those concerns.

HILLARY CLINTON: The United States does not and will not do anything that would limit India's economic progress.

MARGARET WARNER: During three days in Mumbai, Secretary Clinton also met with a broad array of women's, business and civic groups.

And in a sign of solidarity with India, her choice of hotel was the Taj Mahal in Mumbai, target of last November's bloody terrorist attack.

Focus on southeast Asia

Michael Green
Center for Strategic and Intl. Studies
I think it's a more fundamental judgment on her part that the dynamism in international relations is shifting to Asia, with the rise of China and the rise of India. She also has a very strong Asia team she's assembled.

And for more on Secretary Clinton's trip and its significance, we get two views. Michael Green was senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff during the Bush administration. He's now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, and an associate professor at Georgetown University.

And Trudy Rubin is a foreign affairs columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Welcome to you both.

Michael Green, beginning with you, this is her second trip to the region. Why this focus on this part of the world?

MICHAEL GREEN, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, the sort of inside-the-Beltway logic is she's going there because it's not cluttered with special envoys like the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I think it's a more fundamental judgment on her part that the dynamism in international relations is shifting to Asia, with the rise of China and the rise of India. She also has a very strong Asia team she's assembled.

The Obama team has inherited a pretty strong position in Asia. Polls in the region show that, in China and Japan and Korea, people think we're more influential and more important than even 8 or 10 years ago.

So one thing she's doing with these trips is reassuring key partners that she's not going to change the parts of the Bush policy that they liked. And then, on this trip, she's telling them, And we're going to fix the parts you didn't like.

And in particular, Secretary Rice skipped two of these foreign minister meetings in the region. They're not very exciting meetings, frankly, but showing up is nine-tenths of success in Asia. So, you know, that line, "We're back," was a little partisan, but really probably resonated, because they were not happy in the region that Secretary Rice skipped these two meetings.

MARGARET WARNER: Trudy Rubin, what did you make of her comment, "We're back"? Is the Obama administration putting more focus on this part of the world? And if so, why?

TRUDY RUBIN, Philadelphia Inquirer: Well, I think the Obama administration is putting more focus for reasons that Michael Green said, but there's something else. Last week, Hillary Clinton gave a very important speech in Washington at the Council on Foreign Relations in which she laid out the basic concept underlying their foreign policy, which is moving from a multipolar world to a multi-partnership world.

It sounds a little jargony, but the basic thought is to try to develop deeper partnerships, especially with emerging powers like India and other powers like Indonesia, Brazil, and, of course, China, and Russia, and work towards consensus on a variety of issues, especially where they share common interests.

India is a perfect case study. If you look at where India sits in the world, it's at a nexus of South Asia and Southeast and East Asia. So it is close to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, China.

And we have a lot of interests in common, typified by her staying at the Taj Mahal, an interest in fighting terrorism. India is very involved in Afghanistan. Although Pakistan was not raised, sub rosa, we hope that India and Pakistan might start negotiating again over Kashmir, although the K-word was never mentioned, because India doesn't like it.

India is an emerging economic power. India is talking of building a pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India for gas, which doesn't make us very happy.

So lots of issues where, if we could build on what was started in the Clinton and Bush administrations, we might develop a partner who could really be of use to us and, similarly, with the smaller Southeast Asian nations, developing those partnerships, as well.

Influence on the continent

Trudy Rubin
Philadelphia Inquirer
I think it will take a lot of work to get the kind of cooperation that the administration is hoping for. The ASEAN nations, for example, are not as important in the issue of North Korea and nuclear as is China.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Green, do you agree that the focus on the big, thorny issues -- whether it's Afghanistan, Pakistan, or nuclear nonproliferation, whatever -- is usually on the Security Council and the big powers, that these countries in the region, the ones she visited and the ones at this meeting, can also help advance the Obama administration's agenda?

MICHAEL GREEN: Well, certainly, India is important. And the transformation of our relationship with India under the Bush administration I think is one of the signature accomplishments of those eight years.

And there was some concern in Delhi that Democrats weren't that interested in India, that, in a sense, Bush had already been there and done that. She's really moved the ball forward, which I think is reassuring for all the reasons that you've just heard.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, do you think they are significant players in issues like containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions or dealing with the situation in Iran and its nuclear ambitions?

MICHAEL GREEN: In the case of North Korea, if you're talking about India, not as much. In the case of Iran...

MARGARET WARNER: I'm talking about all of these countries.

MICHAEL GREEN: ... potentially quite important. After all, India was a leader and is a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement. They have influence in the system more broadly, building more cooperation with them on problems like Iran. If we can get more cooperation with them on climate change, it will really help bring along a lot of other countries.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Trudy, how much cooperation is the U.S. getting from India, from some of these other countries, on these issues? You mentioned that India still seems to be going forward with a plan to build a gas pipeline for Iran.

TRUDY RUBIN: Yes, India's oil minister, Murli Deora, said only yesterday -- it was carried on the wires -- that they would not yield to external pressure on the issue of the pipeline, although it has been delayed repeatedly and we don't know what conversations went on about it.

I think it will take a lot of work to get the kind of cooperation that the administration is hoping for. The ASEAN nations, for example, are not as important in the issue of North Korea and nuclear as is China. But, then again, China participates, as does the U.S., in these meetings, as a nonmember.

And so if the U.S. could build tighter relationships with some of these smaller Southeast Asian countries, maybe it would have an impact. On the other hand, when you look at what's happening with North Korea and the fact that neither China nor Russia, which was also at the ASEAN meeting -- after all, it's also an Asian country -- neither one seems enthusiastic about tougher sanctions.

In fact, Russia's foreign minister just said today they don't want tougher sanctions; they want negotiations.

So it's going to be a hard slog to translate these partnerships into actions on nonproliferation, but it's certainly worth the effort.

MARGARET WARNER: And so, broadly, Michael Green, what do you think is the biggest challenge or the biggest obstacle that the Obama administration faces in this region, if it sees the issues not only country-specific, but this more broad agenda of getting these countries to be more committed partners of the U.S., in the global issues that are really of concern here?

MICHAEL GREEN: Well, we've just talked about and you've just raised one set of issues, which are these transnational challenges, like climate change and proliferation.

There's a whole other game being played out in Asia right now, which is very 19th century balance of power, the rise of China, and how much will China's rise weaken U.S. influence, weaken democratic norms? And in that game, we need friends and partners, even as we cooperate with China.

So the more she does with Japan, with Korea, with India, with Southeast Asia and democracies like Indonesia, not just to contain China, but just to sort of shape our overall relationship with China, the stronger position we'll be in, and that's a big part of this game, as well, on these trips.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Trudy, this is a big part of the game, that it is counterbalancing China's rise, certainly over the last few years, and influence throughout Asia?

TRUDY RUBIN: Absolutely. India has said -- its officials have said they consider China much more of a challenge. They don't consider it an enemy, but they're not worried about Pakistan, they say.

Their concern is a growing and more powerful China. And we now are going to be selling them weapons systems, which probably they think of as offsetting China. And there's no question that this thought has been in the mind of U.S. administrations for quite some time, India as a hedge.

And then I think you have to say that, even though the K-word wasn't mentioned, Kashmir, I mean, there has to be a hope in the minds of the Obama administration that, if they establish a closer partnership with India, that somehow it will facilitate movement on issues between India and Pakistan, and then India also plays a very important role in Afghanistan, which freaks Pakistanis out, and somehow, perhaps, we can buffer that.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the great global game continues, clearly. Thank you both.

MICHAEL GREEN: Thank you.