Japan is preparing to ask the Bush Administration to soften its bid to change the terms of a controversial agreement for joint U.S.-Japanese development of the new FSX fighter plane, intended to be an advanced version of the American F-16, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The message will be delivered by Japanese Vice Minister of Defense Seiki Nishihiro, who is flying here today to meet with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Brent Scowcroft, the President’s national security adviser.
Despite Nishihiro’s sub-Cabinet rank, his visit is intended as a signal of how much political importance Japan attaches to the FSX deal. He will be traveling here as the personal envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.
U.S. officials said that, if the two governments cannot come to agreement on the terms, Japan probably will seek to fill its defense needs temporarily by manufacturing more F-15 fighters, which it now co-produces under U.S. franchise. It then would develop a new fighter on its own.
But the officials said that the rejection would have a major impact on broader U.S.-Japanese relations. Japan almost certainly would begin viewing the United States as an unreliable supplier of technology. And the sense of alliance between the two countries would be undermined, they said.
Approval of the FSX project would mark the first time that the United States and Japan have joined forces to develop a new military weapons system for Japan. Critics fear that it also will give Tokyo the technology it needs to build a civilian aircraft industry to compete with that of the United States.
The developments came as congressional opponents, including several Republicans, intensified their criticism of the agreement in the face of Bush’s decision to go ahead with the deal, pending some changes in the agreement that the two sides negotiated last year.
Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.), one of the most vocal critics of the arrangement in recent weeks, called the accord “a bad deal for America and for American workers.” And Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) said he is “disappointed” that Bush is not scuttling the deal.
Bush Sure of Congress
Bush Administration officials said that, despite the opposition, the President still is confident that Congress will not overturn the FSX deal.
The Administration says it plans to formally notify Capitol Hill of the accord as soon as Japan has agreed to the proposed changes. The two houses would have 30 days to express disapproval, either by resolution or by formal legislation designed to block the deal.
Bush told the Japanese on Monday that he wants Tokyo to guarantee in advance that it will allocate a major part of the eventual production work on the new FSX--U.S. officials cited a minimum of 40% of the total--to American firms and workers.
And he wants the accord to spell out the existing technology that will be used in the project so that the United States can better claim access to new spinoff advances developed by the joint project.
Earlier, Kichiro Tazawa, head of Japan’s defense agency, said after a Cabinet meeting in Tokyo that the United States should “respect the joint-development memoranda of understanding” that the two sides developed after 18 months of negotiations.
The original accord “is not something that should be changed, and we want to ensure that it is not changed,” Tazawa said.
U.S. officials said that rejection of the FSX would probably benefit some American companies, such as New York’s Grumman Corp. and Calabasas-based Lockheed Corp., which would probably obtain some contracts if Japan decides to go it alone on its own fighter.
But they said that the total U.S. share in such a case would be nowhere near the 40% that American firms such as General Dynamics Corp. of St. Louis already are guaranteed during the development of the FSX fighter.