Ambassador Baker Notes Growing World Concern About North Korea

There is growing worldwide concern about North Korea's nuclear capability and what to do about it, according to Howard Baker, U.S. ambassador to Japan. 

Baker responded to questions at a farewell press roundtable in Tokyo February 16, one day before completing a four-year assignment in the Japanese capital.

Baker said he saw no advantage in discounting North Korea's February 10 assertion that it has nuclear weapons.

"They have said now, more than once, that they have nuclear weapons, and I accept that at face value," he said.  "Now, what America does about that, or what the world community does about it, is very much dependent on what the North Koreans do."

Baker declined to speculate on possible options, but he urged North Korea to resume its participation in the regional negotiations known as the Six-Party Talks.  In addition to the United States and North Korea, the parties to the talks are China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. 

The North Korean government declared February 10 that it would withdraw indefinitely from the disarmament talks. 

"I was surprised and disappointed that the North Koreans withdrew," Baker said.  "But I was intrigued with the wording of their statement, which said, 'for the time being,' in effect, which gives me some hope that they might return.  I think it's the cornerstone of American policy on this issue, that the six-party talks are the way to address the general relationship, with the nuclear relationship in particular." 

Baker stressed that the North Korean weapons program is a regional issue for Northeast Asia, "not just a U.S. issue." 

"[I]t's an ever-present danger, and in the hands of an irresponsible regime, it can be a very grave danger," he said, adding that he was most concerned that the North Koreans have "a demonstrated record of selling any military device they own." 

Baker had positive words for relations between the United States and Japan.

"I think the relationship between our countries is the best it's ever been," he said.  He attributed the strength of the relationship to common security interests, improved trade relations, and shared democratic values. 

The continued impasse between the United States and Japan on trade in beef has been a disappointment, Baker said.  Japan banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003, after the discovery in U.S. herds of a single cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.   

"The importation of American beef has been much delayed and I think it's too bad," he said.  "I think that it is spilling over from an agricultural issue to a trade issue, which is unfortunate." 

"I had hoped and thought that the matter could be resolved by the time I left," the ambassador said.  "But, it's important to continue the effort and that they resolve the issue as soon as possible." 

Following is a transcript of Ambassador Baker's press roundtable, provided by the United States Embassy in Tokyo


Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr.
Press Roundtable
U.S. and International Media

February 16, 2005
U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan

MODERATOR: We are on the record, as usual with the Ambassador, this last time in this capacity.  So would you like to say anything to start with, or just open it up, sir?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Just open it up, that's the best...

QUESTION:  ... I am interested in the geopolitical, tectonic shift.*  You've been here three and a half-years; I've been here three and a half years.  I'm interested in your thoughts on the Japan-China relationship, and how that's not only evolved - which we have all witnessed around the table - but where you see it going up ahead. (*reference to same morning's minor tremor)

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, Jim, that's a very good question, and you may have heard me say at one time or the other what I will repeat now:  It is appropriate for Japan and the United States to worry about the Korean peninsula, certainly, or the Straits of Taiwan, certainly, or India and Pakistan, but because this is in many ways a dangerous region.  But I think the biggest challenge to Japan is going to be how it arranges its relationship with China.  Japan is a superpower, China is on its way to being a superpower.  They are both rich, they both have a history and tradition in this region, and they don't much like each other, I think.  But how they do that is going to say a lot about how stable this region is for years to come.  I have no advice to give on how that should be done, but I hope our friends in Japan will be conscious of the fact that it is a major challenge and a major opportunity as well.   And that certainly extends past the Yasukuni Shrine or lighthouses and rocks.  It has to do with the general relationship between two superpowers, in which all the world, and particularly the United States, has a great interest.

QUESTION:  Has that helped your job, tying up Japan and the U.S. in a tighter relationship?  The rise of China, is that pushing Japan and the U.S. together?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I can't really say that it's changed things much.  I really do think that Japan and the United States both welcome the fundamental changes that have occurred in China.  And we observe with great interest how that evolves and develops in the future.  But the truth of the matter is that China today is a more democratic, more capitalist, I hope more careful country than it was just a few years ago, and I think that trend will continue.  As I said a moment ago, Japan and China both are great powers, and they are important to the stability of this region.

QUESTION: In connection with that issue, how do you feel about Japan's recent supposed assertiveness vis-à-vis China?  Do you think it's an appropriate stance to take?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, I don't see much assertiveness toward China.  I see Japan growing more sure of itself and more assertive in general.  In a way, I think that's reflected in Japan's willingness to send SDF to Iraq, in terms of its peacekeeping forces, in terms of its aspirations to take a more active role in foreign policy in general and the UN in particular.  So I think that all these things are a natural evolution and the challenge, really, for all countries is to make sure that these changes occur in a way that all of them can live with.  I think there is a good chance, maybe even a high probability, that that can work.  But every day that goes by without serious conflict adds to that possibility.  Every time I hear about potential conflict between China and Japan, I remind myself, well, it has not occurred.  Perhaps it will, but Japan and China are not at war, so every day that goes by, once again I think, improves the chances that that relationship can be appropriately modulated.

QUESTION:  On the issue of Japan and China, again, it appears that in this 2+2 meeting on Sunday there's going to be a mention of the Taiwan Straits.  Speaking about the Taiwan Straits as a threat and as a potential security threat for Japan as well, do you see Japan becoming more involved in that issue, in the Taiwan Straits, by this joint declaration with the U.S.?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I think Japan has always been concerned about the situation in the Taiwan Straits, and perhaps they are more concerned about it now; perhaps there's a greater realization that there's a community of interests with the United States and other world powers in trying to maintain stability there.  I don't know what the 2+2 will produce.  I have not seen any paper on that, so I really can't remark on that.  But I think the China relationship is certainly an appropriate, perhaps even necessary item on the agenda for a 2+2.  And if you ask me this tomorrow, after I leave office, I might give a different answer, but right now it's up to other people to decide that. 

QUESTION:  I'd like to ask about the U.S. military forces here - there's been a lot of talk, especially from the Japanese side, about the possible sweeping realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan.  Do you see that happening, and do you think that from the U.S. perspective a sweeping, drastic realignment would be a good thing?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I struggle with the word "sweeping," but I concur in the idea that it is time to re-examine the commitment of American military resources, not only in Japan but around the world.  We really haven't done that in many, many years, really not thoroughly since World War II, and I think it's time.  I think Secretary Rumsfeld is to be commended for that, his continuing determination to see this happen is right.  I think that we - the United States - will go to great lengths to make sure that our friends, allies, and host countries are fully consulted on anything that happens.  I know firsthand that has been done extensively here already, although the final allocation of forces in Japan has not been made.  And I can seriously say, and honestly say, that no decisions have yet been made.  But I commend our government for bringing this to the fore and making suggestions and in soliciting the Japanese point of view.  But - yes, it is time, and I am glad it is happening. 

QUESTION:  Mr. Ambassador, in just exactly two hours, the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect.  I am wondering on this occasion what you would like to say to those in Japan and other countries where the protocol has been signed and going into law.

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, I did that with your Japanese colleagues, but let me say several things.  Number one, the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol, as you know - it was the Senate that would not ratify.  And the Senate's reason for not doing that, as I understand it, is that they thought it not to be in the best interests of the United States.  In effect, they are saying that "one size does not fit all," and some countries will not find difficulty with compliance, and others, like the United States, will find it very difficult. 

Then you go from that to the general refrain that the United States is deaf to the challenge of global warming and environmental complications.  This morning I said, and I repeat now, it's really a "bum rap."  It was the United States that began the environmental ethic with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act shortly thereafter, and I know about that firsthand because I was the senior Republican on those two subcommittees.  But it was America that did that, and it was America that required catalytic converters on automobiles; it was America that required wet limestone scrubbers for power plants.  It is America that spends $5 billion a year on improvement of the air quality - not all environment but in air quality - and I don't know the exact figure, but my guess would be that's an order of magnitude greater than any other nation on earth, and perhaps more than the rest of the world combined.  But we spend $5 billion a year directly concerned with the quality of the air envelope that surrounds us.  So I have no apology for that, and I understand why we have concerns - why the Senate had concerns - about ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, but I believe we all share the same objective and I do not think anything that occurred in Senate debate cast doubt on the seriousness with which we approach this.  It's just our approach is different.

I am reminded a little, if I may say this - it is probably not going to be well-received, but it reminds me a little of the banking situation in Japan, and the question of non-performing loans.  When I first got here, I used to get a cable a day almost, saying "you've got to go in and tell the Japanese they've got to immediately address the issue of non-performing loans."  And after about a month, I cabled back to Washington and said, "You know, I will tell them that, but the truth of the matter is the Japanese are going to do it their way, and to meet Japanese circumstances."  They did that, and they are just about out of the trouble they had.  And they did it probably with a lot less grief than they would if they had attempted to do it in the cataclysmic way that some in America had proposed.  Well, I think the same thing is true in ... I've lost where I was going with it.  I think it is true with Kyoto because, as I said, one size does not fit all.  And as an example, I believe I am correct in saying that Russia, for example, will not need to do anything because environmental credits, CO2 credits that they receive because of their vast timber resources.  The United States, on the other hand, will have to engage in very expensive and very extensive control requirements.  The United States is already doing that, but the Kyoto Protocol therefore was not appropriate to the challenges of our time.  And once again, I challenge others to demonstrate their commitment to air quality as thoroughly and handsomely as the United States has by putting their money where their mouth is.

QUESTION:  A question about North Korea - Do you think we are going to have five-party talks on North Korea now?   Do you think that would be a good idea?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  It has not been put to me exactly that way, but I still am hopeful that there will be six-party talks, and I was surprised and disappointed that the North Koreans withdrew.  But I was intrigued with the wording of their statement, which said, "for the time being," in effect, which gives me some hope that they might return.  I think it's the cornerstone of American policy on this issue, that the six-party talks are the way to address the general relationship, with the nuclear relationship in particular.  I think that, on the question of whether North Korea has a nuclear weapon or not, I suppose our intelligence is incomplete on that but I wonder why we don't believe them.  What is the upside to not believing them?  Indeed my personal view is that I do believe them.  I think they could not, would not, have reprocessed all those 8,000 fuel rods and derived the plutonium that they yield if they didn't intend to use them in a nuclear device. 

I am also greatly concerned by the growing evidence that they have a parallel uranium enrichment facility, and once again, my personal and non-diplomatic view would be that until we can find out where that facility is and examine it, that any sort of limitation on nuclear weapons in North Korea is ineffective, because you certainly can build a uranium bomb as easily, or maybe more easily, than you can a plutonium bomb.  So, I think that there is some chance that the North Koreans will recant their decision to withdraw and resume their six-party conversations, but I'm not sure of that.  But I am sure that America's diplomatic initiative, which is, as the President has said is what we're doing, is what we will pursue.  And as Condi Rice has said, that which we must do.  The diplomatic initiative is based, the cornerstone of it, is based on the resumption of the six-party talks.  So the answer on the five-party talks, I don't know how many parties we'll have involved, but it loses its relevance, really, if the North Koreans are not there.

MODERATOR:  We had a question over here first.

QUESTION:  I'd like to follow up on North Korea.  Is the situation - not the North Koreans, the threat that they have nuclear weapons - has the situation gotten worse?  Does it suggest that we're getting near some sort of endgame, whether they give up their weapons, or that the regime collapses?  What can Japan and the United States do to, sort of, bring about a peaceful resolution to this?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, we can pursue the idea of a continuation of the six-party talks, to begin with.  Second, we should assemble our very best intelligence information that gives us a true picture of what the North Koreans have done with their nuclear material.  And finally, we should examine, as I said a moment ago, other resources and facilities that the North has to build weapons-grade plutonium.  And finally, it would be nice to know what they've done with it.  But until we know these things, I repeat what I said a moment ago, I don't see any advantage to us not believing them.  They have said now, more than once, that they have nuclear weapons, and I accept that at face value.  Now what America does about that, or what the world community does about it, is very much dependent on what the North Koreans do.  And I will not speculate on what options might be available, except to say the next step should be North Korea resuming its participation in the six-party talks.

QUESTION:  It's been said that, you know, if we do see the six-party talk framework collapse, in the sense that the North Koreans refuse to come back to the table, that there are no good military options.  What does that mean?  And what other possible options are there?  Sanctions?  UN Security Council?  Which way do you think we're heading with this?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I think we're headed toward a continuing demand - request - that they return to the Six-Party Talks.  The options that you identify are always there.  The Security Council, certainly - I've heard friends on the Security Council are willing to agree to that.  Sanctions, perhaps.  But sanctions really don't mean much unless you have other countries involved, such as China, and maybe Russia.  Military strikes, you're exactly right; I don't think that's in the cards.  The President has indicated that it is not.  But if your question is, should we rule it out, the answer is no - we should not rule it out.  But there's a minor technical point, that is, we don't know where some of this is.  And that goes back to the question of enhanced and improved and more extensive intelligence information. 

But I think that there's a continuing chance that North Korea will come back to the table.  I think there's a continuing chance that they will agree, on some basis, to dispose of their nuclear weapons and nuclear devices.  I think there's some chance that would lead to further improvements in the world relationship with North Korea.  We tried that with the framework agreement.  It now appears that while we were negotiating that, they were busily engaged in setting up a uranium facility.  That makes me mad, but it doesn't affect the fact that we owe an obligation to try and do something about it.  But I don't think military intervention is imminent or in the cards.  I don't think regime change is in the cards.  The President has said it's not.  But what is in the cards is the fact that North Korea is flaunting its nuclear capability in the face of world opinion.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up on regime change.  Seven hundred miles to the west of here, across what we call the Sea of Japan, Kim Jong-Il is celebrating his sixty-third birthday today.

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  But he didn't show up.

QUESTION:  He never shows up.  It's part of the propaganda.

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I thought he did last year.

QUESTION:  I think what he does is that, in case he comes out later, is that he was working on his birthday.  He was visiting units in the factories, the dead factories.  Will he celebrate his …

QUESTION:  Can we quote you on that? (laughter)

QUESTION:  Will he celebrate his seventy-third in office, in power?  I mean, you read the intel, you get a sense of his viability.  Is he in control of the military?  Where do you see that going?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I have no information about that.  You're right, I do read the intel.  (laughter)  That's no criticism of the intelligence that I receive, but rather the fact that we have very meager intelligence resources, and we're sort of flying blind.  And in that case, I have no alternative - I think my country has no alternative - but to assume that Kim Jong-Il will continue in power.  There won't be any significant change in the governance of that country.  And perhaps, and to assume, that they do have nuclear weapons, because as I said, even in the absence of proof, I don't know the advantage to us in not believing what they say.  But what world opinion towards North Korea will be, a year from now, is very much the question.  We've already talked about a range of options that the world community might have, or that the United States might have.  But I view the whole thing as a collective effort by the world community to try and contain a difficult, even deadly, threat.

QUESTION:  Sort of following up on that, there is talk of sanctions by Japan.  What would you like to see the Japanese government do?  Is there anything?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, their talk is almost entirely on the basis of the abductee issue.  And let me say, by the way, I admire Japan for its continuing concern for relatively a few, a handful, of people.  It says something very good about the Japanese culture and the Japanese sensitivity to human suffering.  But whatever Japan decides, I'm sure will be right for Japan.  And there's a high likelihood that whatever they decide will be fully supported by the United States.  But as I said a moment ago, sanctions are a tool, but it is seldom effective unless it's a multilateral undertaking.  And this case, it probably wouldn't be really effective unless you've got South Korea, China, and maybe Russia on board, and I presently do not see that in the cards.  But sanctions remain an option, and we'll see how it develops.

QUESTION:  You know, it's interesting, because you mention several times that there's no reason not to believe the North Koreans about their claims of having nuclear devices.  The South Koreans appear to be doubting it, on the other hand. 

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  As I understand it, they're doubting that the material has been weaponized.  I don't think they seriously doubt that it has been manufactured.

QUESTION:  Well, they seem to be trying to find room to maintain the policies that they've been advocating for the past couple of years, which is to go on in Kae-song and build more factories, increase their unification talks and other such things.  In what sense does that, along with the trade on the Chinese border with the North Koreans, undermine efforts by Washington to try to isolate the North and force them back into talks?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, there are several parts to that question.  Number one, I'm not sure that is American policy to try to isolate them and force them back into talks.  It is certainly the American ambition that they return.  But I'm sure there are contingency plans in case they don't, but I am not aware of those.  So it is not presently American policy to do that.  How does trade between South Korea and North Korea, or China and North Korea, undermine our commitment to return?  I don't think it does.  I think it ... I think it does not seriously undermine our prospects for a campaign to return to the Six-Party Talks or the functional equivalent of the Six-Party Talks. 

Finally, I think that there's a growing, worldwide concern about North Korea's nuclear capability, and about what the world community can do about it.  It is not just a U.S. issue.  Indeed, it is more a Japanese issue, perhaps, than it is a U.S. issue.  Or a Chinese issue, or anyone else in this region.  Because regardless of whether they can mate a nuclear weapon to a warhead for a missile, it's a demonstrated fact that you can transport nuclear weapons fairly easily.  And I'm certain that it is so here.  So I never worry much about whether they miniaturized it or not.  They have it, it's an ever-present danger, and in the hands of an irresponsible regime, it can be a very grave danger. 

The thing I worry most about with the North Koreans, to tell you the truth, is not that they're going to bomb Tokyo, but rather that they have a demonstrated record of selling any military device they own.  And even some evidence that they may already have sold nuclear material to another country.  But my concern, really, is that a regime such as the North Koreans, with that record, selling nuclear material to all comers, is a very serious issue.

QUESTION:  Sir, how do you respond to this criticism one often hears that the Bush administration, you know, was very activist in its approach to proliferation in other parts of the world?  In Iraq, we even intervened militarily.  And yet, in the case of North Korea, there was a lot of talk - actually, not very much happened.  One often hears this criticism - what would be your response to that?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, I don't have a response, except to observe my own view that circumstances are different in each case.  In the Iraqi situation, it appeared that military incursion would produce results.  Indeed it has - not without price, but it has.  And in the case of North Korea, perhaps it's the collective military opinion that, based on our present information, it would not necessarily have that value.  But underscoring all of that is the President's statement, more than once, that he has no plans to invade or attack North Korea.  But the answer to your question, literally, is no two circumstances are alike.  And Iran and North Korea do not really analogize.

QUESTION:  But then, some of the critics would've said, you know, there was no effort, as under the Clinton administration.  I think we can all debate whether the Clinton administration ultimately had a very effective policy, but there was no effort as under the previous administration, to somehow engage North Korea more, give them inducements or somehow get them, persuade them ...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, the six-party talks are uniquely a Bush initiative.  The Framework Agreement was uniquely a Clinton objective.  I have no quarrel with the Clinton effort at the Framework Agreement to try and bring them to the table, or to try to contain their nuclear ability.  But it's clear that it has failed, and was failing at the time that the Framework Agreement was signed.  The Bush effort, at six-party talks, has not yet failed, and I hope it does not.  But they're two measurably different things.  They both say something important about the commitment of the American government to try and contain and to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea.

QUESTION:  Yeah, a slightly related issue, which is missile defense.  You know, the last two experiments in the last month failed ...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Including yesterday.

QUESTION:  Including yesterday, yeah, for various reasons.  How do you evaluate Japanese interests in missile defense?  Are they kind of going along for the ride, sort of hedging their bets, or are they ...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  No, I think they recognize that, in their particular geographic region, that missile defense can be extraordinarily important.  I think they have not easily, or lightly, decided to spend large sums of money on missile defense.  I think they have much to contribute by their technological prowess and their expertise in general.  I think the failure of the launch of the intercept missile, for the third time, was a real disappointment, but I don't think it seriously caused them to question the viability of the system. 

I, for one, think we'll go forward with our missile defense program.  It's a many-aspect program:  sea-based, land-based and aerial-based.  But I think it's a disappointment.

QUESTION:  Is it - of course could be against North Korea, could also be applied to China, which has plenty of ICBMs?  From the Japanese point of view?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Sure, it could.  That is certainly true.  But unlike the more immediate threat against the Japanese - maybe the North Koreans, who have a variety of weapons systems, including some new ones that certainly would be a greater threat to Japan than they would be to China.  So, it's not much of a jump to say that the decision Japan made on missile defense had more to do with the interdiction and containment of North Korean attacks than against anybody else.  But, you're exactly right - it could apply to anybody, because missile defense is a serious concern in Japan, as it should be. 

QUESTION:  Is it North Korea-related?  Okay, go ahead.  Because mine's off. 

QUESTION:  No, I just want to ... you mentioned that some of the new technologies that the North Koreans may have.  There's been this report recently about a new scud missile developed that was reported by the Chosen Ilbo in South Korea.  Have you heard anything about that?  Whether or not this is real?  Whether or not in fact they have this new missile?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, I can comment on the newspaper account, but I can't comment on our intelligence sources.  But the fact that I mentioned it should certainly indicate that I'm concerned about it.  That's as far as I can go with it. 

QUESTION:  This is one that I'm sure you've dealt with in your household quite a bit - the beef issue.  Do you have any regrets leaving Japan without getting American beef ...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I'm disappointed.  But that's a very good question.  I tried very hard to bring that thing to closure.  And three times, at least, maybe more, I thought we had.  I thought that it was settled.  I was especially pleased to see that Prime Minister Koizumi and President Bush, more than a year ago, indicated that the matter had been settled.  But indeed it had not been settled.  Then we went through the whole drill of experts and devising a system and I thought twice that we had that settled.  Now, I see that, if it was settled, it's a very slow process. 

The importation of American beef has been much delayed and I think it's too bad.  I think it's taken too long.  I think that it is spilling over from an agricultural issue to a trade issue, which is unfortunate.  I point out to my Japanese friends that America is just as fastidious about the safety of the food supply as Japan is and that after all, we've never had a single case of BSE, except one that came into the country - one person who came into the country.  But it's a disappointment to me.  I had hoped and thought that the matter could be resolved by the time I left.  But, it's important to continue the effort and that they resolve the issue as soon as possible.  But it's a personal disappointment to me. 

QUESTION:  Sorry to jump back to North Korea.  You mentioned that it was more of a regional problem than maybe for the U.S.  Would you like to see greater sort of regional cooperation somehow - maybe deeper dialogue among countries in the region?  I don't know if a joint sort of defense exercise is even...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, the six-party talks are a regional concept, and to have those six together is no small diplomatic achievement.  I said a moment ago and repeat - I still place my confidence in the continuation and resumption of the six-party talks.  If that does not happen, then we'll see what we do next.  But other venue - whatever site there might be for trying to resolve this issue diplomatically as the President stated he wishes to do.  But, certainly region-wide concern about this and protection against it is appropriate.  I think, really, in the final analysis, that it is very likely to occur.  But, it takes two sides to make this work.  The six-party talks, I think, suggested that five of the six are on board and the sixth one is North Korea, which does not agree.  But North Korea is a major problem and a dangerous problem - both to Japan and the United States and the rest of this region.  But without implying anything beyond the words themselves, I think that the greatest foreign policy challenge in this region is how Japan and China arrange their relationships. 

QUESTION:  Some people have thought that maybe the six-party talks could live on.  We're talking about an area where there's no common market, there's no NATO, there's no regional framework for people to get together and sort out their differences.  Whether they resume the six-party or not, do you foresee that maybe the five-party group could take on a new vocation...?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, I sort of doubt that they will under that name.  I think if you start suggesting that - that it diminishes the prospects that the six-party talks will resume.  You imply - perhaps asking your question - do I think, if they fail, could we devise some other regional concept.  The answer to that is of course.  But the six-party talks - I'm not willing to concede yet have failed.  I think there's a lot of room by all the parties, to convince the North Koreans that they should come back to the table.  That is American policy - that I believe is to be the very best answer to that problem.  But to answer your question - of course we could do that.  We could do that one-on-one; we could do it as a multilateral undertaking or any combination of those things.  The ideal thing, in my view, would be the resumption of the six-party talks. 

QUESTION:  How does the rise of China as an economic power affect the military balance in the region and the roles for Japan and the United States in that?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, certainly China is a growing economic power, and I predict it will continue to be.  That's one reason, at the beginning of these conversations, that I said Japan and China are both superpowers.  Indeed, they are.  But I also must say that I have not seen any evidence that the new prosperity of China has enabled them to buy new weapons systems, or to manufacture them and that, not conversely, any failure of economic systems have much impact on their desire or willingness to buy those systems.  So, they're obviously related at some point, but I do not see a direct relationship at this time. 

QUESTION:  Do you see them pushing into traditionally Japanese sphere of - I'm talking southern Ryukyus, Senkakus, but also the Governor's island (laughter) and all his waters around it - the Japanese waters around it?  Do you see, once again the tectonic plates, I mean the rise of China pushing out into areas which have been safely Japanese?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Yes, I think so, but I really warn against over-reading that.  They are not the same as the challenge, at one time, to Quemoy and Matsu, you know.  They are not that strategic, but you do have Japanese Coast Guard down there, certainly around that that lighthouse, so there's a potential threat.  But it's not beyond the mind of man to assume that those things can be worked out.  Territorial waters is largely a legal concept, and I think the world is populated with enough lawyers so they ought to be able to figure that out.  Those things are serious, but the ones that are most serious are the security of Taiwan and the danger from North Korea.  They're the ones that really matter. 

QUESTION:  It's a very hypothetical, perhaps even a utopian idea, sir, but I remember in a previous press conference, someone - it might have even been this gentlemen here - asked you a question about Asian Union, right?  It was very striking that Condoleezza Rice recently went to Europe - she went to Europe in the past few days and she gave a really very warm endorsement of the idea of European Union, which hasn't always been the case in American foreign policy.  Sometimes we haven't been quite true what we thought about it.   What would be your thoughts, as you leave this position, about the idea of an Asian Union, particularly at a time when there are all these tensions in the region?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I think the tensions are all the more reason to do it.  I also predict that Secretary Rice will be here before long.  I can't predict when, but I'm confident that she will.  I think that the issue of a closer relationship between the countries of the region is sound and I think she will find that appealing.  But how exactly that's done - by a regional conference, by bilateral negotiations or by some other techniques - remains to be seen.  I do not think, as some contend, that America's foreign policy concerns have shifted away from Asia to Europe.  You don't have to hate one to love the other.  You can do two things at once.  So, I foresee the Rice foreign policy, the Bush foreign policy, to be to enhance and improve our relationship with our friends in Europe and, at the same time, to maintain our strong position in Asia. 

QUESTION:  When do you think she might be coming? 

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I don't know when she might, but I'm confident that she will.  I base that on some conversations, but I really can't say. 

QUESTION:  Arguably, looking right now, it seems that the U.S.-Japan relationship is at an all-time high in recent years.  I guess we can attribute some of that to your fine leadership...

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I'm just happy to be there when it happened.

QUESTION:  Besides that, I'm wondering whether or not you feel it's a product of the growing threats that Japan feels in the region, and whether or not that has sort of redoubled its desire to have a closer relationship with the United States - realizing that it is essentially alone in Asia? 

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Well, there are many parts to the question, too, and there are many answers to it.  All of those things, I think, have contributed to it, but I don't think they are the major determinant.  I think the friendship and improved interdependence between Japan and the United States is the product of many things.  One, a recognition of the common dangers that exist.  Two, to the requirement that we learn to get along on trade issues, which we have not always done.  Three, that we understand there are mutual dangers there that have to be dealt with and that we must share our information and devise a strategy that is appropriate to the region.  Finally, I think, it's important in the region that we recognize that China, India and Pakistan are growing powers - economic and military, and that we have to fully take account of that before we make any serious effort - or any effort - to bring a homogenous view to security relationships in the region. 

QUESTION:  There's kind of a flip side to that question - other than beef, what do you see as the major problems in the relationship with the U.S. right now...and Japan?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I rode with President Bush down to Crawford, Texas, on Air Force One in preparation for his meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi.  I had no expectations that I would be asked to brief the President on the Japan-U.S. relationship, but he sent for me and I went to his compartment on a plane.  I sat down, and he said, "Okay, Howard, what's up?"  Which is not exactly that way I would have focused the issue.  (laughter)  But that's what he said.  I said, well, "Mr. President, I really do think that ..." - this literally happened - "I really do think the Japan and the U.S. relationship is the best it has ever been.  But it's a high maintenance operation."  I guess that summarizes it still.  But you would expect no less from two countries this big or less active as the United States and Japan. 

We here at this embassy have a big staff and I say three-fourths of their activity has to do with the commercial interrelationships, which you would expect with the first and second largest economies in the world.  But I think we've made progress in resolving those things - in most cases without rancor and successfully.  But I think the relationship between our countries is the best it's ever been and I think it's been really hard to decide why that's so.  As we talked a little while ago, we're different people, different languages, different cultures, geographically different and we fought a great war recently.  Why are the United States and Japan so friendly?  I think there are many answers, but one that I do not hear often discussed and I believe is a major contributor is that I think Japan and the United States have the two most sensitive and participatory democratic systems in the world and I think they find that mutually attractive. 

MODERATOR:  We have unfortunately used our time and even on this last day in the office I've got to keep the ambassador on his schedule. 

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  I would not know this is my last day.  Mike, this has been a day at work.  Every block in the schedule has been filled.  I'd sort of hoped to taper off ...

MODERATOR:  We're not letting you off.

QUESTION:  What's your first priority when you get home?

AMBASSADOR BAKER:  Do you ever remember the story - I guess it might be true - of when Harry Truman left the White House, somebody in the New York Times said, "Mr. President, what are you going to do when you get back to Independence?"  He said, "Well, the first I want to do is take the bags up to the attic." (laughter)

What I'll do depends on what we'll do, you know.  This is the first time in my recent life that I haven't made a detailed schedule ahead of me, so we've got to figure that out.  There are lots of opportunities, but we'll figure it out.  Nancy is going to England to the final meeting of the Africa Advisory Commission in preparation for the G-8.  She's a real Africa expert - she was chairman of the Africa subcommittee of foreign relations, so she really knows what she's talking about.  I think she scares the dickens out of the rest of them, and she does.  (laughter)  She's got to go almost immediately over there.  I said, "Well, you know I love London.  Why don't I go with you?  She says, 'No, you've got to stay home and take care of the dog.'" (laughter) So, to answer your first question, my first challenge is to acclimatize the dog to her new surroundings.  Okay, thank you all.