Clinton: U.S. 'Doing Everything We Can' to Free Soldier From Taliban

Secretary of State calls capture of American soldier "outrageous."

July 19, 2009, 6:56 PM

NEW DELHI, India, July 20, 2009— -- As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes her first overseas trip since breaking her elbow June 17, she faces a world of problems -- from Iran's nuclear ambitions to North Korea's unwavering threats to resistance against emissions caps in India.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News this morning, Clinton said the clock for nuclear talks with Iran is ticking and downplayed North Korea's military threat, while contradicting her own apologies for the two journalists who have been sentenced in the country for trespassing.

President Obama's former rival in the Democratic presidential race scoffed at recent reports that she had been marginalized.

"How can it frustrate me, it's so ridiculous, there's no basis for it," Clinton said when asked whether she is frustrated by reports of marginalization.

"I could not be more satisfied working with the president," she said in New Delhi, India, on her first official trip to the country. Clinton has visited India three times before.

The United States' top diplomat may be ready to take on the world, but the list of problems facing the United States internationally is long. In the latest round of complications in Afghanistan, the Taliban captured a 23-year-old American soldier in early July. Clinton told ABC News the United States is "doing everything we can to locate him and free him."

"It's just outrageous," she said. "It's a real sign of desperation and inappropriate criminal behavior on the parts of these terrorist groups, so we are going to do everything we can to get him."

Clinton said she was not free to talk about whether the soldier, Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, was still in Afghanistan.

But she repeated her offer to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban to lay down their arms.

Another major problem the secretary faces is North Korea, which has tested missiles and has been relentless in its pursuit of nuclear weapon capability. Clinton acknowledged that the Obama administration has shifted its approach toward North Korea by not responding to its provocations.

"We weren't going to give the North Koreans the satisfaction they were looking for, which was ... to elevate them again to center stage," she told ABC. "What we've seen, constant demand for attention. Maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention. Don't give it to them. They don't deserve it. They are acting out to send a message that we're not interested in receiving."

Clinton added that she doesn't know whether North Korea will go ahead and launch a long-range missile but, surprisingly, downplayed any threat from the country.

"We understand their capabilities, which are not all that great frankly, their military doesn't pose a threat to us," she said. "We know our allies -- Japan and South Korea -- are very concerned. They watch what we watch and we know what's really going on there."

Clinton On Journalists: 'We Are Very Sorry' It Happened

Clinton said international efforts to squeeze Pyongyang are "really beginning to make a difference."

So what's working?

"I actually feel as though our message is getting through to North Korea. We have not chased them. We have not thrown money at them. We have not said OK, just be nice for a little while and then you can go back to your old ways. We said, now you know what the choice is," Clinton said.

The former first lady also acknowledged that the State Department changed its approach in trying to free the two journalists captured, imprisoned and sentenced to years of hard labor by North Korea. In June, Clinton told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the charges against Euna Lee and Laura Ling were "absolutely without merit or foundation."

But, earlier this month, her words sounded more like an apology.

"The two journalists and their families have expressed great remorse for this incident and I think everyone is very sorry it happened," Clinton said at a State Department town hall meeting.

Clinton has said the United States is not apologizing but then added in the ABC interview that "we're sorry."

"The young women themselves have, apparently, admitted that they probably did trespass so they are deeply regretful and we are very sorry it's happened," Clinton said. "Our most important goal is to make sure they get home safe."

Clinton said the North Korean government had not asked her to apologize, but they are "always making demands."

Asked if she was hopeful they would be released, she said, "I'm very hopeful. It's something that I feel very strongly about personally as well as in my capacity as secretary of state. I've met with the families, the anguish they're going through, and their feelings are so painful and I want these young women home."

Middle East Tops Agenda

Iran is also high on the secretary of state's agenda. It remains unclear if the country, where a disputed election that put President Ahmadinejad back into power created a series of violent clashes, will make an overture toward the Obama administration. Clinton said the time for engagement is running out.

"There's a series of choices that clearly Iran needs to make and we're waiting to see if, maybe, they will," Clinton said.

On Obama's offer to meet with Iranian leadership and and how long it is on the table, Clinton said the United States is "willing to have a bilateral discussion with Iran, we also know the nuclear clock is ticking. ... The president has talked about the fall -- the end of the year -- it's just clear that we are not leaving it open for ever, it's not indefinite."

Clinton also addressed Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks that Jews have the right to settle in east Jerusalem. Obama has repeatedly called for Israel to curb its settlements and establish dialogue with Palestinians.

"I think that we are seeing the government of Israel stake out public positions that necessarily have nothing to do with the settlements," she said.

North Korea and Iran may be the hot-button issues right now, but the secretary of state is facing challenges from other fronts as well. India gave her the cold shoulder on climate change emissions caps, with Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh saying that "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets."

The United States wants the world's largest developing economies to cut emissions to curb climate change, but India and others argue it would stunt their economic growth. Clinton denied that she was rebuffed by the Indians on United States' global climate policy.

"I actually found it to be a very mature and honest exchange of ideas," she told ABC News.

Clinton invited India's prime minister Manmohan Singh on Obama's behalf to Washington in November for a state visit, the first for India in the new administration. The climate change talks are likely to continue then.

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