REUTERS - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday offered North Korea a peace treaty, normal ties and aid if it eliminates its nuclear arms program and stressed her desire to work more cooperatively with China.
Speaking ahead of a trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China next week, Clinton also said North Koreans deserved political rights and, in a comment that may irk Beijing, said Tibetans and all Chinese deserved religious freedom.
Searching for a way to end North Korea's nuclear programs is likely to be one of the main topics on Clinton's week-long trip to Asia, which will also cover challenges like the global financial crisis and climate change.
"If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula's long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty, and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people," Clinton said at New York's Asia Society.
She also said she hoped North Korea, which is reported to have made preparations for a long-range missile test, would not engage in what she called "provocative" actions that would make it more difficult for the United Sates to work with Pyongyang.
"So much of it depends upon the choices that they make," she said. Talks to end North Korea's nuclear arms program have been stalled for months. Pyongyang complains that aid given in return for crippling its nuclear plant at Yongbyon is not being delivered as promised in a six-party deal it struck with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
The secretive North has balked at a demand by the other powers that it commit to a system to check claims it made about its nuclear program, leaving the talks in limbo.
U.S. analysts believe that part of Clinton's mission is to reassure Tokyo and Seoul that it will not bargain over their heads in talks with North Korea.
The secretary of state, who openly criticized China's human rights record in a 1995 speech in Beijing, also aims to cultivate a constructive relationship with the Chinese leadership.
"It is in our interest to work harder to build on areas of common concern and shared opportunities," said Clinton.
Later this month, she added, the United States and China would resume military-to-military talks that Beijing suspended last year after U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
"As part of our dialogues we will hold ourselves and others accountable as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those rights," Clinton said.
"One where Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi (of Myanmar) can live freely in her own country, where the people of North Korea can freely choose their own leaders, and where Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious freedom without fear of prosecution," she said.
Opposition leader Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Myanmar since May 2003 and has been detained for 13 of the last 19 years. Her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections but was denied power by the military that runs the country.
How to tackle climate change would be a key topic during her trip and Clinton said she would press the use of "clean" energy in all the countries she visited.
Collaboration on clean energy offered a real opportunity to develop a good relationship with China, she said, adding that she would visit a "clean" thermal plant while in Beijing that was built with U.S. and Chinese technology.
China, she said, had just surpassed the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the two would work hard to create clean energy sources and technology transfers that benefited both countries.