For Kim Jong-il's 67th Birthday, More Than Just Candles

The first day of Hillary Clinton's first overseas trip as Secretary of State also happened to coincide with the 67th birthday of North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.

The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea chose to mark the occasion on Monday by confirming plans for test-firing what are feared to be long-range Taepodong-2 missiles. But an official statement from the state-run news agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), counters that this is "vicious trick" by the US and other countries and that the launch is actually related to "space development." "One will come to know later what will be launched in the DPRK," it continues.

Many will remember that such comments have been made before by North Korea, such as in 1998 when it attempted to disguise a missile test which flew over Japan as a routine satellite launch.  

At a press conference in Japan earlier today Clinton attempted to send a forceful message to Pyongyang stating that the decision to forward its relationship with the United States is "up to them and we are watching very closely."

So what is the best way to deal with a country led by a man as secretive, autocratic and volatile as Kim Jong-il?

This may be one of the most daunting and essential challenges facing Clinton in her new role as stateswoman. North Korea's continued flaunting of its nuclear program and threatening of its neighbors is eclipsed only by the human rights abuses afflicted upon its own countrymen.

Of course, much of how the situation unfolds in North Korea will depend on the United States' increasingly critical relationship with Asia.  A recent piece in Foreign Policy gives Clinton kudos for making the region her initial diplomatic destination arguing "if the 20th century was an Atlantic century, the 21st century looks likely to be a Pacific one."

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