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Nakasone Apologizes for Remark on Minorities’ IQs : Yields to Mounting U.S. Anger

From Times Wire Services

Bowing to mounting outrage in the United States and criticism in Japan over a controversial racial remark, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone admitted today that it was offensive and said, “I would like to express my heartfelt apology.”

“I realize that my recent remarks have offended many Americans,” Nakasone said in a three-paragraph statement, issued early today in Tokyo by the Foreign Ministry.

Top officials indicated that they hoped the rare public statement of regret would put the controversy to rest. American minority group leaders had branded the comment racist and demanded an apology, some threatening to call a boycott of Japanese products.

Nakasone was quoted Monday as saying Japan has a higher “intelligence level” than the United States because all Japanese are of the same race.

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“The level in the United States is lower because of a considerable number of blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans,” Nakasone was quoted by two Japanese dailies as telling a group of fellow Liberal Democratic Party politicians.

A party official later said the prime minister was referring to the literacy rate. Nakasone had admitted that the remark was ill-advised but had repeatedly refused to apologize.

‘Very Severe’ Action

He decided to do so after Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari, who was in New York when the dispute erupted, returned to Japan this evening and briefed him on the “very severe” reaction in the United States, officials said.

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The statement was prepared after a hurried, late-night round of talks among top Japanese officials. It was also issued today through the Japanese Embassy in Washington.

“Let me make one thing very clear,” Nakasone said. “I have always firmly believed that America’s greatness derives from the dynamism and achievements of her many ethnic communities. It was not my intention whatsoever to imply any racial discrimination nor to criticize any aspect of the American society.

“It is my strong personal commitment to strengthen the friendship between our two peoples, and I am determined to work for this cause.”

Nakasone’s remarks came at a time when U.S.-Japan trade ties have been strained by Japan’s nearly $50-billion surplus in bilateral trade.

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The need to defend his commitment to the United States was bitterly ironic for Nakasone, who since coming to power in 1982 has spearheaded efforts to improve trade and defense relations with Japan’s chief ally.

Denounced in Congress

But the move came after two previous attempts at clarification this week had failed to dampen American anger and the dispute had become a political football in Tokyo.

Black, Latino and Japanese-American congressmen denounced the remark on the floor of Congress Thursday, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with the Japanese ambassador in Washington and demanded a clarification.

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Kuranari’s Japan Air Lines flight was delayed for three hours Thursday at New York’s Kennedy Airport after the airline received a bomb threat. Some Japanese officials speculated that the threat was linked to the controversy.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday accepted Japanese clarifications of the original remark and took no action.

Japan is one of the world’s most racially homogeneous societies. Minorities, the biggest group of which are Koreans, make up less than 1% of the population.

Nakasone’s remarks nevertheless also drew protests from Japanese opposition parties.

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