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Clinton's Trip to Focus on Security

Washington, April 12 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton leaves Washington Sunday on a trip to South Korea, Japan and Russia that is to focus on security issues.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Thursday that the goal of the one-week tour is to reinforce alliances and relationships needed to maintain America's security in the 21st century.

"The president will confront some of the oldest and newest challenges to the security of our nation," Christopher said.

He said these include nuclear smuggling from Russia, as well as stability on the Korean peninsula, which is, in Christopher's words, "the last unresolved problem of the Cold War."

Tensions there have risen because of North Korea's recent violations of the Armistice Agreement regulating the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.

Christopher said the the U.S. expects North Korea to continue to respect the 1953 Armistice Agreement.

The first stop on Clinton's itinerary is the Cheju-Do island off the coast of South Korea -- where he is to have talks with President Kim Yong-Sam on Tuesday.

Christopher says they will discuss the status of a 1994 agreement with North Korea that includes a provision for a dialogue between the two Koreas. Christopher says Clinton and Kim will explore ways to make progress in "this critical area which so far has been missing."

In Tokyo, the next scheduled stop, Clinton and Japan's prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto are to sign a security declaration reaffirming the two countries' commitment to continuing a U.S. military presence in the region.

Christopher says the declaration is the result of 18 months of top-level negotiations and reaffirms "U.S. determination to maintain our forward-deployed presence and existing force levels in the region."

He said Clinton and Hashimoto will also discuss Japan's increasing role in global affairs, including cooperation with the U.S. on Bosnia. Christopher said "Japan has become more active in a very beneficial way" in this area.

Japan is one of the participants at an international fundraising conference for Bosnia that opened in Brussels today, and is expected to pledge a significant contribution for civilian reconstruction in Bosnia.

From Tokyo, Clinton flies to St. Petersburg late Thursday to spend the night and do a little sightseeing on Friday, April 18th, before continuing on to Moscow.

Christopher said that in Russia, Clinton hopes to take significant steps on nuclear safety and security that will benefit the U.S., Russia and the world as a whole.

He will join other leaders of the Group of Seven advanced western democracies - Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and France - and Russia for a one-day summit on nuclear safety issues.

Christopher said the summit participants are expected to adopt a program to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and agree on what he called "a process of cooperation to dispose of large amounts of plutonium, no longer needed for defense purposes."

Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has been invited to join the final afternoon session of the summit.

Christopher said Ukraine's participation for the first time in such a gathering reflects the importance the U.S. attaches to cooperation with that country. He said Kuchma's presence will give world leaders an opportunity "to recognize and applaud Ukraine's courageous decision to close the Chernobyl reactor."

Christopher said the G-7 group with Russia expect to agree on measures to improve the safety of other aging nuclear reactors of similar design that are still in operation in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.

After the G-7 summit, Clinton and Russian president Boris Yeltsin will hold bilateral talks on Sunday, April 20th. Christopher said it will be their tenth meeting.

He said Clinton will tell Yeltsin of U.S. anxiety about the Chechnya conflict and convey "deep concern and disappointment about the continuing war in Chechnya."

Clinton will also express the hope that Yeltsin's peace plan will lead, as Christopher put it, to "a true cessation of hostilities and finally, a negotiated solution."

He said NATO expansion will also be on the U.S.-Russian agenda and is certain to be discussed at the ministerial level between himself and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov.

"We seldom have a meeting (when) that's not discussed," Christopher said, adding that U.S. and Russian positions on the subject are well known.

He reiterated that the U.S. is proceeding on a deliberate course towards NATO enlargement, following a pace and pattern set long ago.

Christopher said that in talks with Yeltsin, Clinton will also enquire about Russia's progress in economic and political reforms and offer, in Christopher's words, "our strong support for a free and fair presidential election this June."

Before leaving Moscow for Washington on April 21st, Clinton plans to meet with a broad spectrum of Russian political leaders, including several candidates in the June election.