TOKYO, Feb. 17, 2009— -- The United States wants to listen and learn, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with ABC News, reaffirming one of President Obama's messages to the world.
But on her first overseas tour as secretary of state and in her first interviews with the media, she also warned North Korea not to advance its nuclear program -- an apparent reversal of her comments to reporters on the way to Japan that she sought "openness" with Pyongyang. Clinton also expressed concern over the growing threat of terrorism in Pakistan.
In her first television interviews, Clinton appeared to speak more in thought points than talking points, avoiding the appearance of repeating memorized lines while still sticking to the administration's message.
Clinton arrived in Tokyo Monday to begin an Asia trip that will include stops in China, South Korea and Indonesia.
Traveling across the region, Clinton got a look at the world of problems she faces.
A UN report released Monday said the number of Afghan civilians killed in armed conflict rose 40 percent in 2008 -- with 39 percent of the deaths caused by U.S., NATO and Afghan forces -- as the Afghan war grew increasingly bloody. In Pakistan, the government struck a peace deal with Taliban-linked groups who now control the picturesque Swat valley, but in return the Pakistani government agreed to militants' demands to impose strict Islamic Shariah law, a move likely to draw criticism from the United States.
And in Tokyo, Clinton's arrival was marked by the steepest quarterly contraction in Japan's economy in 35 years, as the country's finance minister quit after appearing to be drunk during a G-7 meeting last weekend.
This is the first time since 1961 a U.S. secretary of state has put East Asia first on his or her travel agenda, reflecting the importance placed on reversing the global recession.
Clinton said the United States intends to work closely with Japan, the second-largest economy in the world.
"I hope that we'll be able to lay the groundwork for the turnaround," she said in the interview with ABC News in Tokyo Monday.
As for why she thinks the foreign minister resigned, Clinton called it an "internal decision" on the part of the Japanese government.
"But there are a lot of very able people in the finance ministry and the government and the private sector who I know will be working hard to make sure their efforts at recovery continue," she said.
Clinton also seconded comments made by Dennis Blair, who, at his hearing to become director of U.S. national intelligence, said that the global financial crisis is a critical near-term security concern.
"Yes, we have to look at this as part of our threat matrix," the secretary of state said. "I know some people have criticized him and said, 'what does the economy have to do with terrorism.' That's a very short-sided view. I think what director Blair was saying is that we get fixated sometimes on the headlines of dangers, and that is not in any way to underestimate the continuing threat from terrorism, the instability in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere."
"But this economic crisis, left unresolved, will create massive unemployment," she said. "It will upend governments, it will unfortunately breed instability, and I appreciated his putting that into the context of the threat matrix."