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Clinton Talks Tough On North Korea


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to talk tough today on North Korea. She was pushing countries in Southeast Asia to enforce U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang. Clinton told reporters that she's trying to change the equation for Iran, asserting that nuclear weapons will not make Iran safer, especially if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the Persian Gulf.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In the Thai resort town of Phuket, Secretary Clinton held back-to-back meetings, some of them with governments involved in the stalled nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea. When she appeared in front of the cameras, she said that there's a sense of unity among the U.S., Russia, China and others.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization, that the United States, as well as our partners, will move forward on a package of incentives and opportunities, including normalizing relations that will give the people of North Korea a better future.

KELEMEN: But she said the U.S. won't reward North Korea just for returning to the negotiating table. She also said that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, and she argued that she wasn't implying any change in policy when she seemed to suggest earlier in the day that the U.S. is thinking about how to live with a nuclear-armed Iran by setting up a system of deterrents.

Sec. CLINTON: 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 support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's 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.

KELEMEN: That wasn't exactly the venue where she thought she'd be making news on Iran. Clinton was taking part in a lively TV talk show, hosted by Futchi Tai Yun(ph) who questioned her about all sorts of regional and global issues before delving deeply into U.S. politics. Clinton said that when President Obama asked her to take on the job, she suggested other candidates to be his secretary of state, but President Obama was very persuasive.

(Soundbite of Thai TV program)

Sec. CLINTON: And he gave me an enormous amount of authority as secretary of State, and really everything I asked for so that I could do the job that he wanted me to do, he agreed to, and I was running out of excuses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I remember late one night, I said, oh, I don't know. I mean, you're really making this hard for me, and he goes: I mean to make it hard for you. I want you to take this position.

Mr. FUTCHI TAI YUN (Talk Show Host): Did you consult your husband?

Sec. CLINTON: Of course, of course.

Mr. YUN: You did?

Sec. CLINTON: Yes.

KELEMEN: Yun and his co-host also tried to find out if Hillary Clinton has any further ambition to become president. She said she's not thinking at all about that, not with such a demanding job.

Sec. CLINTON: I'm a hundred percent focused on it, and in our country, when you're in the secretary of State position, you're out of politics. So I'm not involved in our domestic politics at all, and that's fine with me because this job is so demanding.

Mr. YUN: You've given up hope to be the first lady president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. CLINTON: Well, I've got a very demanding and exciting job right now, and I'm not somebody who looks ahead. You know, I don't know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life.

Unidentified Woman: So it's wait and see.

Sec. CLINTON: No, no, no, no. I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YUN: Never say never.

KELEMEN: She said running for president is just not on her radar. Clinton said the U.S. campaign offers lessons for Thailand, where she joked that politics are as spicy as the food. She said that in the U.S., when the election is over, the president is the president, and you want to help him succeed.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Phuket. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.