Alarmed by indications that Japan may be rethinking its traditional U.S.-centered foreign policy, the Bush administration launched a charm offensive Monday to assure visiting Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka that U.S.-Japan ties benefit both nations.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the outspoken Tanaka, "You should always remember that the best friend of Japan is the United States."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who relayed Powell's words to reporters, said the secretary of State also assured Tanaka that the administration supports efforts by the government of new Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to reform Tokyo's lumbering political and economic systems.
Visit Contrasts With Her Snub at Home
Tanaka, the first woman to head Japan's Foreign Ministry, was making her first official visit to the United States. In sharp contrast to her controversial refusal to meet Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage in Tokyo last month, Tanaka talked to just about all the top officials of the administration, including President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Bush and Cheney dropped in on Tanaka's White House meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The foreign minister also met separately with Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick.
Tanaka came to Washington to finish up planning for the scheduled June 30 visit by Koizumi to the United States. The prime minister will confer with Bush at Camp David, Md.
Bush Asserts His Respect for Ties
U.S. administrations traditionally roll out the red carpet for visiting Japanese officials. But Bush went well beyond the requirements of protocol to emphasize the importance he attaches to the relationship with Japan, which remains an economic powerhouse despite a prolonged slump.
Since her appointment in late April, Tanaka has quickly established a reputation as Japan's least diplomatic diplomat. Unlike most Japanese Cabinet ministers, who permit the country's powerful bureaucracy to run their departments, Tanaka has vowed to put her own stamp on the Foreign Ministry.
The Japanese press has carried frequent reports of undiplomatic comments the foreign minister has made in private talks with foreign leaders. The remarks, probably leaked by disgruntled bureaucrats, have not been confirmed, but they have produced continuing controversy.
For instance, Tanaka was quoted as expressing doubts about Bush's missile defense plan, although she has refused to confirm the reports. In her meeting with Powell, Boucher said, Tanaka said she understands the administration's decision to move ahead with anti-missile research but did not endorse it. Powell said the administration is determined to go ahead with the creation of a missile shield as soon as it becomes technologically feasible.
Boucher said Powell did not mention the published accounts of Tanaka's criticism because "they don't sit up there and talk about [the] press. They talk about what they think."
Last month, Tanaka canceled her scheduled meeting with Armitage, who was in Tokyo as part of a worldwide effort by the administration to explain its missile defense plans. To avoid snubbing a senior U.S. official, Koizumi met with him. Tanaka's refusal to hold the meeting was never fully explained.
Overall, Boucher said, Powell and Tanaka agreed "that the alliance between Japan and the Unified States has played a key role in the prosperity and security of both our countries."
Okinawa, Kyoto Pact Among Issues on Table
In addition to missile defense, Boucher said, Powell and Tanaka discussed friction over U.S. troops in Okinawa and Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement intended to combat global warming.
Tanaka reiterated Japan's support for the Kyoto agreement, named for the Japanese city where it was negotiated. In response, according to Boucher, Powell repeated the administration's position that the pact is fatally flawed because it does not impose standards on developing countries such as China and India and because its impact would fall heavily on U.S. industry.
Boucher said Powell told Tanaka that the United States is "looking for a technologically oriented, market-driven" way to combat global warming.
The secretary of State also told Tanaka, Boucher said, that the United States hopes to reduce the impact its troops have on Japan to the lowest level "consistent with a need to achieve the mission that has brought security and prosperity to both Japan and the United States, and created stability in the region."