Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew a clear line on U.S. relations with North Korea today, saying that while the Obama administration is interested in talking with Pyongyang, the United States will not normalize relations with North Korea until it abandons its nuclear weapons program.
"Its leaders should be under no illusion that the United States will ever have normal, sanctions-free relations with a nuclear armed North Korea," she said in a speech on nonproliferation to the United States Institute of Peace.
Clinton said the United States remains committed to engaging the reclusive Stalinist regime, but said that sanctions will not be relaxed "until Pyongyang takes verifiable, irreversible steps toward complete denuclearization."
America's top diplomat also reiterated the administration's commitment to engagement with Iran, "if Iran is serious about taking practical steps to address the international community's deep concerns about its nuclear program" but said "the process of engagement cannot be open-ended."
She urged Iran to implement a recent proposal to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium stockpiles for further enrichment in Russia so that it can be used in a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes for use in X-ray machines and other procedures. Negotiators, meeting in Vienna this week to hammer out details, reached a draft agreement today, and have until Friday for their governments to approve it.
Clinton's comments came during an address that outlined the Obama administration's efforts to advance the president's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, first articulated in a speech earlier this year in Prague.
"Pursuing these goals is not an act of starry-eyed idealism or blind allegiance to principle. It is about taking responsibility to prevent the use of the world's most dangerous weapons and holding others accountable as well," she said.
Clinton hailed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, as critical to curbing nuclear proliferation but said the body's resources and mandate are inadequate to the task.
"The International Atomic Energy Agency doesn't have the tools or authority to carry out its mission effectively," she said, citing Iran's ability to develop covert nuclear facilities and Syria's secret reactor as examples of programs that should have been caught sooner.
Calling current enforcement "unacceptable," Clinton said violators of efforts to end the threat of nuclear conflict should pay a price if caught. She called for automatic penalties to be established.
The Obama administration is engaged in a policy review looking at the role of nuclear weapons and whether they are effective at deterring or responding to threats. Clinton today reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to reduce its nuclear arsenal, and struck back at critics who say that makes the United States less safe.
"Pursuing this vision will enhance our national security and international stability," she said.
Clinton returned last week from Moscow, where she discussed negotiations on a follow-on to the START treaty, which expires on Dec. 5, that would continue efforts to decrease in tandem the size of U.S. and Russian nuclear capacities. Today Clinton said those discussions remain on track.
Clinton urged the Senate to pass the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the creation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which she said would cap arsenals and reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.
"Further proliferation and nuclear terrorism are not foregone conclusions. These dangers can be impeded and even prevented," she said.