Originally published on February 24, 2009 at http://www.care2.com
Hillary Clinton met with diplomatic officials and heads of state in China, Korea, Japan and Indonesia and did not hesitate to jump into a wide range of key issues on her first official trip as Secretary of State. Ms. Clinton prioritized her discussions around North Korean nuclear disarmament, the world financial crisis and laying groundwork for cooperation on climate change. Clinton did not push the issue of human rights in meetings with Chinese leaders, emphasizing the growing importance given to cooperation on economic and environmental issues. The most immediate challenge was to establish the Obama administration’s position on North Korean nuclear disarmament by encouraging U.S. allies to reinvest in firm bilateral negotiations and by signaling to the North Korean government that cooperation will bring rewards.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has pressed back hard against efforts by both the administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton to obtain denuclearization. North Korea has claimed to need the weapons defensively, accusing South Korea and the United States of intending an attack. North Korea has also tested both nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, boasting of its power to retaliate for any attack against it.
Secretary of State Clinton’s task was to entice North Korea to participate in negotiations towards completing disarmament. However, she clearly needed to warn the communist nation that it would suffer further isolation and harsh treatment in the region if it failed to cooperate and that the United States stood with its allies in the six party talks. “North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with the Republic of Korea. . . . The Republic of Korea’s achievement of democracy and prosperity stands in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty in the North,” Clinton said.
Negotiations have in the past also included offering the North Koreans foreign aid in exchange for their cooperation, but have never concluded a lasting agreement. Secretary of State Clinton said before her trip that the United States is willing to normalize relations with North Korea in return for disarmament.
This approach is consistent with the position that President Barack Obama took during the presidential campaign, stating that he would not hesitate to talk to foreign nations in an effort to reach compromise, even those whose positions the United States rejects. However, Secretary Clinton was threading a needle in giving substantial incentive for North Korea to comply and yet speaking out on behalf of ally South Korea in unity against the North’s nuclear saber-rattling.