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Talks on FSX Jet Hit Snag; Tokyo’s Envoy Goes Home

Times Staff Writers

Talks between the United States and Japan on joint development of the FSX advanced fighter aircraft hit a potentially serious snag Wednesday, for the first time casting doubt on when--or whether--the deal will go through.

A high-ranking envoy sent by Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita flew back to Tokyo after failing to resolve Bush Administration concerns over how much of the aircraft’s production U.S. firms will be responsible for and what kind of technology the two countries will share.

Japan had hoped to get a U.S. commitment by Friday to go forward with development of the FSX--in time for the Japanese government to award the prime contract for development of the plane before March 31, the end of Japan’s fiscal year.

But U.S. officials said the latest Japanese offer has fallen far short of what the Administration expected on both counts and that the President will not accept the terms Tokyo finally offered.

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As a result, the negotiations have been downgraded to a decidedly lower level and will continue essentially in limbo until Japan submits a more palatable offer.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Wednesday that the United States will not be hurried into the deal. Fitzwater told reporters that the Friday date set by the Japanese for deciding the issues “is not a drop-dead deadline.”

Both Japanese and U.S. officials continued to express optimism that the two countries eventually will conclude an FSX deal. “The bottom line is that we will get there somehow,” one Bush Administration official said.

However, some U.S. officials conceded privately that the impasse amounted to at least a psychological setback in the negotiations, which are considered an important test of the ability of the two countries to cooperate on defense issues.

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Pressure From Congress

Both U.S. and Japanese officials acknowledged that there is no longer any fixed timetable for reaching an agreement--or even any dates set for future talks. The Administration has been under pressure from Congress to ensure that U.S. economic interests are not compromised.

Under the proposed deal reached by Pentagon officials in the final months of the Reagan Administration, an American firm--General Dynamics Corp.--would help Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop a new Japanese fighter aircraft, the FSX, based upon the American F-16.

The U.S. firm would be allocated a part of the work involved in developing the new aircraft, but the agreement made no promise that the United States would have a share of the subsequent work in actually producing the planes.

A week ago, Bush notified Japanese officials that he wanted two significant changes in the agreement negotiated by the Reagan Administration.

One was a new Japanese commitment to allocate a major share of FSX production--at least 40%, U.S. officials say--to American companies and workers. The other was a clear definition of the existing technology in the plane, so that the United States would be able to claim access to any advances that come out of the joint project.

The senior Japanese official, Vice Defense Minister Seiki Nishihiro, flew to Washington last week to try to work out new language that might satisfy the Administration. But after meeting with U.S. officials, including Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Nishihiro returned home Wednesday empty-handed, leaving future talks in the hands of Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Nobuo Matsunaga.

In an apparent effort to allay fears in Japan that the deal may fall through, Nishihiro told Japanese reporters before leaving Washington that the Japanese government will go ahead and award the prime contract for developing the FSX to Mitsubishi even though there is so far no American commitment to the project.

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