Clinton embarks on Pacific trip; focus on terror

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is kicking off her 2010 diplomacy agenda as she did a year ago, with a trip meant to strengthen U.S. relations with key partner nations in the western Pacific.

This time terrorism and the Obama administration’s push to improve international cooperation to thwart the threat in Asia and the Pacific, as well as the greater Middle East, will play a prominent role in her talks.

Clinton was to depart Monday on a 10-day trip scheduled to take her to Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with a stop in Hawaii for a policy speech and a one-on-one meeting with her Japanese counterpart.

The trip will highlight the high priority the administration is placing on maintaining strong relations with major allies like Japan and Australia. She also aims to improve ties to other nations seen as like-minded on issues like terrorism, climate change and energy security.

In Australia, Clinton is to be joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for talks with their foreign affairs and defense counterparts. Among the expected topics: countering the terrorist threat, not only at the flashpoint along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border but across a widening arc that now includes Yemen and Somalia.

Clinton makes her first stop in Honolulu. On Tuesday she is to deliver a speech there at the East-West Center, a research organization founded 50 years ago by Congress to promote relations with Pacific nations. Her remarks will focus on a U.S. desire to modernize pan-Asian consultative organizations to make them more relevant to Asia security and development — and possibly to expand U.S. participation.

She also is to consult in Honolulu with senior military officials at U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for U.S. military relations with countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

One reason for Clinton’s New Zealand visit is to express thanks for its contributions to the war effort in Afghanistan. New Zealand’s cadre of elite special forces is considered among the best in the world.

Clinton’s first overseas trip as secretary of state, last February, was to Asia, a choice she said then was a reflection of the Obama administration’s commitment to maintaining strong relations with China, South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. She returned to the region last July and again in November.