By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
TOKYO, Feb. 17 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the Obama administration will make "a concerted effort" to restore the image of the United States in the Islamic world and will seek to "enlist the help of Muslims around the world against the extremists."
Clinton, who on Wednesday will travel to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, told students at Tokyo University: "This is one of the central security challenges we face -- as to how to better communicate in a way that gets through the rhetoric and through the demagogy and is heard by people who can make judgments about what we stand for and who we truly are."
Clinton's remarks came in response to a question about terrorism causing people in the United States to have anti-Muslim "prejudice," a term she rejected forcefully. "I am a Christian," she said. "Through the centuries we have had many people who have done terrible things in the name of Christianity. They have perverted the religion."
Clinton's visit to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, appears to be part of the administration's effort to reach out to Muslims during this week-long trip to Asia. President Obama spent part of his childhood in Jakarta, and expectations are high in Indonesia that he will visit later this year.
The town hall gathering came at the end of a busy first day of diplomacy for Clinton, who crisscrossed Japan's capital in an effort to mix statecraft and personal outreach to the Japanese people.
Clinton visited a shrine early in the morning, then signed an agreement moving 8,000 troops from Japan to Guam; she had tea with Empress Michiko in the imperial residence and took questions from students for an hour before having dinner with Prime Minister Taro Aso. She then followed that with a meeting with Aso's political nemesis, Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
She extended an invitation to Aso to meet next week with Obama, a coup for an embattled politician whose approval ratings sank this week to the single digits. But during the news conference announcing the invitation, Aso's finance minister -- and an Aso confidant -- resigned over reports that he appeared drunk at a major economic meeting last weekend.
Clinton also held a private 20-minute meeting with two families of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents decades ago, an emotional subject in Japan. The Bush administration last year removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite protests from the Japanese government, in a bid to win Pyongyang's cooperation in the impasse over its nuclear program.
Clinton met with Sakie and Shigeru Yokota, parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted when she was 13, and Shigeo Iizuka, elder brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted at age 22. According to Teruaki Masumoto, a brother of an abductee and advocate for abductee families, the Yokotas showed photos of Megumi and Clinton asked what happened to Taguchi's two children, who were left behind when their mother was abducted.
Masumoto said the three Japanese came out of the meeting with the impression that Clinton had listened eagerly and showed personal interest in the issue. The Yokotas and Iizuka gave Clinton two English-language copies of Sakie Yokota's book, which details her struggle as a parent of an abductee -- one for her and one for Obama -- and a letter urging her to "seriously consider re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism."
But Masumoto said Clinton did not make clear statements in response to the family members' request to put North Korea back on the terrorist list. A senior administration official quoted Clinton as saying she would "look into it."
North Korea abducted at least 16 Japanese, starting in 1977, apparently to obtain Japanese teachers. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has conceded that the abductions took place and has returned five Japanese, but the North Korean government has refused to provide details on others, who it says have died.
At the town hall meeting, Clinton also said that the administration was reviewing policy on Burma, suggesting it was considering a major shift that would ease some of the strict economic sanctions the United States has imposed on the junta that has long kept under house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize-winning democracy activist.
"We're looking at what steps could influence the current Burmese government, and we're looking at ways we could help the Burmese people," she said.
Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.