Amid press reports that North Korea might be preparing a long-range missile test, Clinton pledged to hold the communist regime to its commitments to give up its nuclear programs in return for international aid and political concessions.
"We will need to work together to address the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia: North Korea's nuclear program," she said to New York's Asia Society on the eve of a trip to visit China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea — her first as secretary of state.
She declared that President Barack Obama's administration is "ready to work with leaders in Asia to resolve the economic crisis that threatens the Pacific as much as any other region, ready to strengthen our historic partnerships and alliances while developing deeper bonds with all nations."
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She also sought to reassure Japan, the top U.S. ally in the region, on one of its top concerns, promising to meet with the families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
But on North Korea, Clinton said the Obama administration is committed to working with the reclusive country through the framework of six-nation talks that produced the nuclear agreement.
"We believe we have an opportunity to move these discussions forward," she said. "But it is incumbent on North Korea to avoid any provocative action and unhelpful rhetoric toward South Korea."
The U.S. is willing to "normalize" relations with North Korea, Clinton said, but only if the regime in Pyongyang agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and accept a program of verification.
She suggested the U.S. could provide energy and economic aid and sign a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. The 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce, and the two Koreas face each other across one of the world's most heavily armed borders.