Clinton emphasizes softer image

The Baltimore Sun

TOKYO -In her first trip abroad as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton issued a sharp warning yesterday to North Korea over its threatened missile test, signed a military agreement with Japan and conferred with senior Japanese officials on topics that included the enveloping world financial crisis.

But a 45-minute "town hall" meeting at the University of Tokyo also gave the country's chief diplomat a chance to project a softer American image. She avoided the phrase war on terror, which was standard terminology during the George W. Bush years. And she touched on topics that included climate change, families, global poverty, the need for healthy habits among the elderly, and baseball.

A young woman in pigtails asked how to get along on a baseball team with lots of bigger, more powerful men.

"I've played a lot of baseball," Clinton told the woman and the others in the audience. "I've played with a lot of boys. The most important advice is to do what's true to yourself."

The university students weren't shy about going beyond Clinton's official duties and asking for mentoring.

A law student asked her advice on whether she should have children or push for gender equality by pursuing a career.

"I don't think you have to make a choice between contributing with children or gender equality," Clinton said, adding that "society needs to do more" to make it easier for women to balance their roles.

As her first official trip, the Asian tour is meant as a signal of the importance of the region to U.S. interests, emphasizing ties to Japan, the growing importance of China and the threat posed by North Korea. The trip also signals the region's importance as a place for Clinton to make her mark as secretary of state.

After spending two days in Japan, Clinton planned to travel today to Indonesia, where President Barack Obama lived for a time as a youth, and then to South Korea and China.

Clinton was joined yesterday by Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace for afternoon tea. They met in 1994, when Bill Clinton was president and the empress and Emperor Akihito visited the United States.

Clinton also spent about 30 minutes with the families of Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1980s and 1990s. Japan insists that the fate of the abductees, as they are known, must be resolved before there can be any normalization of relations with North Korea.

The Bush administration's sympathy on the abductees issue left Japanese leaders disconcerted when it struck a deal with North Korea on its nuclear program, leading the U.S. to remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism last year.

In their meeting, the families urged Clinton to return North Korea to that list as a means of pressuring the regime to provide information on what happened to their loved ones. But American officials said Clinton, though sympathetic, made no commitments.

Also yesterday, Clinton signed an agreement after a meeting with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone to move 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

She dined with Prime Minister Taro Aso and met briefly with Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan. The meeting with the opposition was seen by some in Japan as a vote of no confidence in Aso, who has slid in the polls amid the financial crisis.

But aides said it was only part of Clinton's effort to reach out, in keeping with her insistence that she wants to do more than meet with national leaders.

"I want to listen to the voices of the people as well," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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