U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to tell North Korea that it can avoid "unrelenting" sanctions and win normalized relations with the U.S. by completely scrapping its nuclear program.
Officials said Clinton intends to announce Thursday that if North Korea takes irreversible steps to denuclearize, then the United States and its negotiating partners would be willing to 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 says in excerpts of prepared remarks released late Wednesday by her staff.
"In the meantime, we will undertake the necessary defensive measures to protect our interests and our allies. North Korea's ongoing threatening behavior does not inspire trust, nor does it permit us to sit idly by," she says.
The Obama administration approach outlined by Clinton combines the lure of full normal relations with the U.S. and it allies with the threat of stiff international sanctions if North Korea continues with its nuclear buildup.
Clinton's emphasis on international cooperation to deter growing nuclear threats hit at least one sour note on Wednesday.
Clinton said during an earlier television interview in Bangkok that the U.S. would also turn to its international partners in dealing with Iran, extending a "defense umbrella" over its Persian Gulf allies to prevent Iran from dominating the region "once they have a nuclear weapon."
"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment: that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to develop the military capacity of those (allies) in the Gulf, it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon," she said.
Those remarks raised eyebrows in Jerusalem, where Dan Meridor, Israel's minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told Army Radio: "I was not thrilled to hear the American statement from yesterday that they will protect their allies with a nuclear umbrella, as if they have already come to terms with a nuclear Iran. I think that's a mistake."
Hours after Meridor spoke, Clinton insisted during the news conference in Phuket that she was "not suggesting any new policy" on Iran and continued to believe that "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable."
Clinton had mentioned the notion of a "defense umbrella" against Iran earlier this year during a conference in Sharm el-Sheik, but it has not advanced much beyond the stage of an amorphous idea, officials said.
After consulting at this seaside Thai resort Wednesday with 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 Wednesday that Pyongyang could avoid isolation by ending its nuclear weapons program.
If not, she warned during a news conference, North Korea faces "the unrelenting pressure" of expanded international sanctions.
Clinton said the four nations all agree with Washington 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 the steps 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," Clinton said. "So we want verifiable, irreversible steps taken."
Clinton added that the Obama administration knows it will be difficult to achieve this goal, given North Korea's record of having agreed during the administration of President George W. Bush to end its nuclear program, only to change course. Last year it declared the so-called Six Party negotiations — with the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea — dead.
Clinton was in Phuket to meet with her counterparts in the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN. She also was signing the association's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which is a commitment to peacefully resolve regional disputes. More than a dozen other countries that, like the United States, are not ASEAN members, have already signed the treaty.