Clinton Leaves for Asia in First Trip as Secretary of State

WASHINGTON  — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is ready to deliver a message about the Obama administration's "desire for more rigorous and persistent commitment and engagement" during her tour of Asia this week.

On her first mission overseas as President Barack Obama's chief diplomat, Clinton intends to stress the administration's interest in the region during stops in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. No major policy changes are expected, however.

"I hope to signal that we need strong partners across the Pacific, just as we need strong partners across the Atlantic. We are, after all, both a trans-Atlantic and a trans-Pacific power," Clinton said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York on Friday.

While previous secretaries of state have traveled first to Europe or the Middle East, Clinton's itinerary is seen as a symbolic gesture aimed at reassuring friends and allies of their standing and impressing the Chinese with early engagement. She departed Sunday.

Talks with leaders in each capital are expected to cover the global financial crisis, climate change, North Korea and nuclear weapons and human rights concerns.

"We are ready to listen. Actively listening to our partners isn't just a way of demonstrating respect. It can also be a source of ideas to fuel our common efforts," Clinton said in her New York speech.

"Too often in the recent past, our government has acted reflexively before considering available facts and evidence, or hearing the perspectives of others. But President Obama and I are committed to a foreign policy that is neither impulsive nor ideological, one that values what others have to say. And when we have differences, which we will, we will discuss them frankly and specify those which limit our capacity to cooperate."

Ahead of her trip, North Korea's No. 2 leader said Sunday the communist nation was ready to improve relations with "friendly" countries. The remark by Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, could be an olive branch to Washington, even though it came amid reports the North is gearing up to test-fire a long-range missile in an apparent attempt to grab Obama's attention.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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