February 3, 2009 / 4:44 AM / 11 years ago

Clinton expected to visit Japan, South Korea, China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton is expected to travel to Japan, South Korea, China and possibly Indonesia in mid-February on her first trip as U.S. secretary of state, diplomats said on Monday.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition they not be identified because the State Department has yet to announce the trip, cautioned that Clinton’s schedule could change.

The stalled multilateral effort to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is likely to be a major feature of Clinton’s talks in the region, as is the global financial crisis.

North Korea’s nuclear program is among the most vexing of a series of foreign policy challenges that U.S. President Barack Obama inherited from former President George W. Bush.

Pyongyang agreed in 2005 to abandon its nuclear programs under a deal struck by the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States but it then tested a nuclear device in 2006.

The secretive, communist state subsequently reached more detailed pacts to dismantle its plutonium-based nuclear program but it has balked at allowing extensive inspections that would allow the United States to verify its actions.

Clinton has praised the six-party talks, which allow the United States to try to leverage the influence of the other parties — notably China — to reward North Korea for steps toward denuclearization and to punish it for backsliding.

However, it is unclear how the Obama administration plans to get North Korea back on track with the aid-for-disarmament deal or whether it may consider a more intense bilateral dialogue as a way to do so.

The diplomats said Clinton might visit Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, during her trip. Such a visit with fit with Obama’s efforts to restore U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, said in his inaugural address he sought a new way forward with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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