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Clinton laying out terms for N Korea on nukes

world Updated: Jul 23, 2009 12:25 IST

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Asian nations on Thursday to vigorously enforce the latest UN sanctions against North Korea. She said Washington would pursue "every avenue" to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Clinton also was holding out the prospect of full diplomatic relations and other incentives for North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

In remarks to delegates at a security forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Clinton lamented the suffering of North Korea's people while stressing her view that the most urgent security issue in Asia is North Korea's illicit nuclear program. "North Korea must end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and fulfill its pledges" to verifiably dismantle its nuclear arms production complex, she said, according to a text of her prepared remarks. "North Korea's response in turn has been more threatening behavior."

She called on the international community to implement the UN sanctions that are intended to deny North Korean ships access to ports for shipping banned cargo and to cooperate in enforcing financial sanctions against designated firms that support North Korea's nuclear program.

In separate remarks planned for later Thursday, Clinton planned to say that if North Korea takes irreversible steps to denuclearize, the United States and its negotiating partners would reciprocate in a "comprehensive and coordinated" fashion.

"Full normalization of relations, a permanent peace regime, and significant energy and economic assistance are all possible in the context of full and verifiable denuclearization," Clinton was to say, according to excerpts from prepared remarks released late Wednesday.

Those entreaties are not new, dangled in the past by the George W. Bush White House in failed efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

Instead, Pyongyang tested its second atomic bomb in May and launched a flurry of missile tests and warned of war moves that led the US and other nations to expand sanctions against the regime.

The administration approach combines the lure of economic aid and normal relations with the US and its allies with the threat of stiff international sanctions if North Korea continues with its nuclear buildup. Obama warned recently that North Korea has until September to show tangible signs of halting its nuclear program. At a news conference Wednesday in Phuket as part of a meeting of the 10-nation ASEAN, Clinton told reporters that North Korea must completely and irreversibly end its nuclear weapons program or face further isolation and "the unrelenting pressure" of international sanctions.

After consulting at this seaside resort with her counterparts from China, Russia, Japan and South Korea on a strategy for enforcing the latest U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, Clinton said there is a more positive way ahead if the North chooses.

"We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization that the United States, as well as our partners, will move forward on a package of incentive and opportunities including normalizing relations that will give the people of North Korea a better future," she told reporters. Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Clinton said China, Japan, Russia and South Korea agree with the US on the core goal of irreversibly ending North Korea's nuclear program, and she said the international community is in a "strong position" in its push to change North Korean policy. Asked by a reporter what specific steps North Korea must take, Clinton indicated they include dismantling its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and surrendering its plutonium stockpile. The particular details of required actions are to be determined by technical experts, she added.

"We do not want to be in another negotiation that doesn't move us toward the goal of denuclearization," she said. "So we want verifiable, irreversible steps taken."

She said the Obama administration knows it will be difficult to achieve this goal, given North Korea's record of having agreed during the Bush administration to end its nuclear program, only to change course. Last year it declared so-called six-party negotiations with the US , Russia, China, Japan and South Korea dead.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters Thursday that it was important to restart the stalled talks soon. "I believe this is an effective platform from which one can proceed to cooperate on the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," he said. "China will continue to do its best."

The concern in Asia and the United States about North Korea's nuclear program goes beyond the prospect of the communist regime having the capacity to threaten nuclear attack.

It also reflects a growing worry that a nuclear-armed North would lead Japan, South Korea and possibly others in the region to decide they, too, must embark on development of a nuclear arsenal. And there is worry that North Korea, desperate for cash, could sell its nuclear know-how to other nations or even to a terrorist group. Clinton is winding up a weeklong Asia trip where she has discussed a range of security issues, including political repression in Myanmar, the military-run country also known as Burma. US officials held out the possibility of a lower-level meeting, or exchange, here Thursday with a representative of either Myanmar or North Korea, or both. But Clinton has said she had no intention of meeting with anyone from either delegation.

Clinton told reporters Wednesday that the US is convinced Myanmar is taking the wrong road by associating with North Korea possibly moving toward developing military ties and even a nuclear relationship.

Clinton also called for Myanmar to release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate faces up to five years in prison if convicted, as expected.