Clinton discusses North Korea with Asian counterparts

New York, Sep 22 (DPA) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday met foreign ministers from Japan, South Korea and Australia to weigh action on North Korea’s nuclear programme and Tokyo’s call for a shake-up in the US-Japanese relationship.

The meetings came at the start of a week of major diplomacy in New York as world leaders gathered for the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. US President Barack Obama arrived late Monday for his first visit to the UN headquarters since taking office in January.

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The US State Department said all sides welcomed the US openness to hold talks with North Korea to try to restart stalled six-nation negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities.

“I think there was general agreement and support for the idea that not only the United States but other countries might engage in dialogue, a bilateral dialogue, which would bring North Korea back to the six-party process,” spokesperson P.J. Crowley said.

The US is involved in those nuclear talks with the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia.

Clinton met Japan’s new Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, before hosting a three-way meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, designed to “enhance coordination and cooperation” in the region, according to a joint statement issued after the talks.

Obama is set to Wednesday meet new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose longtime opposition party was swept into power in an election last month. Hatoyama has said he wants to re-negotiate parts of the country’s long-standing alliance with the US, including US bases on Japanese soil.

Clinton, in brief comments ahead of her meeting, called the Japan-US relationship a “cornerstone” of US foreign policy and said the talks were aimed at “determining how best we can broaden and deepen this already very strong relationship”.

US officials played down any potential rift. Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the US would “listen to how they want to undertake a major review of various aspects of our alliance relations”.

Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, meeting earlier in the day, noted progress in bringing sanctions to bear on North Korea for its ongoing nuclear activities. Countries have begun inspecting North Korean ships suspected of carrying nuclear material – as called for in a UN resolution earlier this year.

Clinton and Yu agreed that they “were starting to see effective coordination not just among a few of the Asian states but in the Middle East and elsewhere”, Campbell said.

“Several states… have unilaterally chosen to either inspect cargoes or turn ships back to port in North Korea,” he said.