Excerpts of Baker interview

         The following are excerpts from U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker's interview
 with The Japan Times:
January 1, 2002

Q. How do you think the Sept. 11 tragedy has strengthened relations between Japan and the United States?

A. It is clear that it has brought our countries even closer together. Your prime minister and your Diet have acted expeditiously and effectively in constructing the means for Japan to join in this combat (against) international terrorism. . . . It is clear from many standpoints that the long-lived friendship between Japan and the U.S. is even deeper and broader now than it was before the terrible incidents of Sept. 11.

Q. You have said that you were disappointed that Japan did not send Aegis destroyers to the Indian Ocean for logistic support for the U.S. forces.

A. The Aegis ships are the most modern and the most effective of all the ships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. But it is clear to me now that forces that were dispatched by Japan are entirely adequate and they are appropriate to the challenges and circumstance.

Q. Do you think the Sept. 11 incident has opened the way for Japan to discuss exercising its right to collective defense, and do you expect for this to happen?

A. The question of collective defense is one that Japan must address. It is not appropriate for me to comment, nor for the U.S. government to try to advise Japan on how it conducts itself in that field, given the requirement of the Japanese Constitution. My guess is that Japan will continue to grow as a strong, sovereign nation, a full partner in world affairs. And how that translates into particular actions are matters that are entirely up to Japan and to its government.

Q. Japan is hosting an international conference on rebuilding Afghanistan. What kind of role do you expect Japan to play for Afghan reconstruction?

A. I think Japan has a major opportunity to play an important, and perhaps even pivotal, role in organizing relief efforts and reconstruction efforts. Afghanistan is much closer to you than it is to the U.S., and you have a deep understanding of the dynamics of the relationships in this part of the world.

Q. What are your views on the current progress of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's structural reform steps? Some key U.S. administration officials have indicated their impatience with the slow pace of reform, such as the disposal of nonperforming loans.

A. I think there is a concern in the U.S. and other parts of the world about the pace of recovery in Japan. But it's not impatience. We understand that the measures that probably will have to be taken are difficult. I think the U.S. understands that there is a level of determination to address these issues in Japan. We feel optimistic that Japan will address these issues in a Japanese way and it will succeed . . . and that Prime Minister Koizumi is leading in the right direction.

Q. Are you worried that there are no signs of recovery in the Japanese economy? What are your prospects for the U.S. economy as it suffers from the impact of the Sept. 11 incident?

A. Of course, I'm worried. I'm worried about the future in general, but in the United States, while we have been in recession for a while, I see optimism that our economies are turning the corner, and I believe that we will see a significant improvement some time in the second to third quarters of next year. As we progress and see recovery from our recession, I think that you will also see progress and recovery from your recession.

Q. You faced a difficult situation over Okinawa issues as you just arrived in Japan in July right after the alleged rape incident by a U.S. serviceman. How do you think you can reduce the burden of Okinawa people for hosting U.S. military bases?

A. The first negotiations I conducted when I arrived in Japan were the question of how to appropriately protect the rights of American servicemen but at the same time honor the provisions of the Japanese law, which resulted in turning over the American serviceman to Japanese custody to face trial in Okinawa in Japanese court. That was an unhappy situation, but it was the right way for it to be handled by both countries.
There is a great concentration of American forces in Okinawa, and it has long been the policy of the U.S. that we want to reduce and minimize the impact of American forces in Okinawa. But it is also true that Okinawa represents an essential, important and indeed vital part of the mutual-defense link in the Pacific. For the foreseeable future, I do not see a significant reduction in the American presence in Okinawa.

Q. Do you think the Sept. 11 incident has even raised the importance of Okinawa to the U.S. strategic interest?

A. I do think so. . . . If we are to be more than a theoretical alliance and prepared to defend freedom in Japan and the United States in the Pacific region, we must have a presence (in Okinawa).

Q. Okinawa's demand for setting a 15-year time limit on the use of a new airport to take over the functions of Futenma Air Station has been left unsolved. Why is the U.S. against setting such a time limit?
A. The U.S. understands it is difficult to see (what will happen) in one year in the future, let alone 15 years in the future. I do not think it would be wise either for the U.S. or Japan to place a time limit on facilities such as the air base in Okinawa.

Q. How do you respond to the calls by local people for revising the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement?

A. The SOFA is essential, as long as there is an American presence in the region. There must be an orderly way to treat issues. In the recent Okinawa rape incident, the SOFA provided reasonable assurance that the American serviceman receives all the rights he is entitled under the Japanese law to the extent possible under the American law. It is not the SOFA that needs to be changed, it is rather its implementation that must be continuously monitored and improved as time goes on.

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