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Clinton pledges reconstruction support

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by Staff Writers
Tokyo (UPI) Apr 18, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged support for Japan's reconstruction after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed up to 28,000 people.

Damages are estimated at $300 billion, making it the world's most costly natural disaster that also crippled a nuclear power plant.

The United States also will create a "public-private partnership for reconstruction" through which U.S. firms and organizations should enter into discussions to contribute to Japan's rebuilding, Clinton said during a brief visit of around six hours on the weekend.

"Economically, diplomatically and in so many other ways, Japan is indispensable to global problem-solving," Clinton said after meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto. "And the U.S.-Japan alliance is as indispensable as ever to global security and progress."

Tokyo was the last leg of Clinton's global jaunt. Stops included a visit to Berlin for NATO talks on the Libya conflict and, before Japan, a visit to Seoul on the weekend.

She was in South Korea for discussions on a free trade pact with the United States and as part of an effort to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table to end its nuclear weapons program.

In talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Clinton said that the countries are in the "home stretch" for a free trade agreement.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Clinton discussed security issues, pledging greater cooperation to solve regional disputes as well as greater coordination of policies on North Korea.

"Sharing an understanding on this, Secretary Clinton said that the two countries are maintaining a stronger alliance on North Korean issues than at any other time and will continue to cooperate closely in these areas," a South Korean government statement said.

Clinton also praised Seoul for pledging $500 million in assistance for rebuilding Afghanistan.

A main concern for Seoul and Washington is the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program. The talks involving both Koreas, the United States, China -- a main backer of North Korea -- Japan and Russia were put on hold more than two years ago.

The United States and South Korea say they want assurances that Pyongyang is serious about honoring promises to dismantle its nuclear program and halting its uranium enrichment program.

North Korea last tested a nuclear device in 2009 but has test-fired long-range missiles in 1998, 2006 and 2009.

But the nuclear capability card isn't something the reclusive North Korea regime easily will give up, U.S. Army Gen. Walter Sharp said last week at a Senate hearing in Washington. Sharp said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his likely successors are hanging onto a nuclear capability as the key to their regime survival.

The ruling North Korean generals, normally suspicious of international organizations, are also aware that the country might need food aid to keep civil unrest down. The World Food Program and other U.N. relief agencies say a food assistance program is needed to feed around 6 million people in North Korea. Around 430,000 tons of food assistance is needed to stave off a crisis, the United Nations has said.

Tensions between North Korea and the United States -- usually high -- increased days before Clinton's arrival in Seoul.

Earlier in the week, detained U.S. citizen Jun Young-su, a business man from California, confessed to committing an unspecified crime, a report by North Korea's government mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency said. Jun is believed to have taken part in a religious activity, something upon which the communist government keeps a close eye.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is expected to visit Pyongyang this month in what is described as a private visit. But during Carter's last trip in August, a "private humanitarian visit," he arranged for the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 31. Gomes was sentenced to eight years at hard labor earlier in the year after being found guilty of illegally entering the country from China.

Although unconfirmed by North Korea, the U.S. State Department said it knew of Carter's planned trip.

"We have been made aware of his trip," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week. "I am not aware of any plans that we have to talk with him."

Carter likely will be accompanied by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The four former leaders are part of a group known as The Elders.

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Support for Japan PM rebounds after disaster: poll
Tokyo (AFP) April 18, 2011
Public support for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet rebounded following the March 11 disaster, but a majority of voters criticised its response to the nuclear crisis, a poll showed Monday. The Nikkei business daily said in its latest opinion poll that the approval rating for the cabinet rose to 27 percent from 22 percent in its previous survey in late February, while the disapprov ... read more

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