World News

Clinton warns North Korea, lauds Japan alliance

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “strongly condemned” North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean naval ship during a brief visit to Tokyo, where U.S. and Japanese officials sought to paper over a military base dispute.

South Korea accused the North on Thursday of torpedoing one of its warships, heightening tension in the economically powerful region and testing the international position of China, Pyongyang’s only major backer.

Seoul said after a rare emergency security meeting earlier in the day that it would respond prudently to the sinking of its ship, but Pyongyang warned the peninsula was being driven to war.

“I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences. We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community,” Clinton said.

“So we will determine our best options and send a clear, unmistakable message to North Korea regarding the international community’s and most particularly, its neighbours’ concerns about its behaviour.”

A feud over the U.S. Marines’ Futenma airbase on Japan’s Okinawa island has distracted the allies as they try to cope with an unpredictable North Korea and a rising China.

Japanese voter perception that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has mishandled the issue is eroding support before a midyear election his party needs to win to avoid policy paralysis.

But Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada stressed that the 50-year-old alliance was solid and more important than ever, and Okada said the U.S. troop presence in Japan was vital.

“I want to explain frankly to the Japanese people that the presence of U.S. troops in Japan is indispensable to Japan’s security and to the peace and stability of the region in the current security environment,” he told a joint news conference after his meeting with Clinton.

Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Chris Gallagher