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On Burma (Myanmar) visit, Hillary Clinton highlights North Korea determination

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Burma (Myanmar) to laud democratic reforms there, Burma’s ally, North Korea, proudly claims rapid progress on its nuclear program.

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President Lee has issued frequent demands for apologies for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea last November and the sinking in 2010 of a South Korean naval ship the Cheonan in which 50 people died. Mr. Lee has also been adamant that North Korea must show firm signs of giving up its nuclear program before talks can begin.

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“I don’t think preconditions are helpful at all,” says Hans Blix, who served as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the 1990s when North Korea shut down its five-megawatt plutonium reactor in accordance with the Geneva framework agreement reached in October 1994. That agreement fell apart after North Korea was revealed to have embarked on its own program for building a reactor and facility for enriching uranium.

Mr. Blix opposes demands for North Korea to apologize for past offenses. “We’ve heard demands for apologies,” he says. “It’s not a way to get the discussion going again.”

Amid this climate, Clinton, attending a conference on international aid in Pusan, flew to the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw to bring about rapprochement with a government that’s been at odds with the US and close to North Korea. She’s holding out the bait of removal of sanctions while calling for democratic reforms on the basis of what President Obama has called “a flicker of hope,” seen in the release of some political prisoners and the freedom given Burma’s hero of reform, Aung San Suu Kyi, for years under house arrest. [Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated the capital of Burma]

Her trip, if nothing else, is likely to discourage budding ties between Burma and North Korea revolving around the export of North Korea nuclear and missile technology.

“Burma has not come very far,” says Blix. “They don’t have that much nuclear equipment.” Nonetheless, he says, “the world has reason to inquire” about Burma’s program.

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