State's Burns Gives Press Conference in Tokyo

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns

Tokyo, Japan
October 24, 2005

Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns responds to reporters' questions at an Oct. 24 Embassy press conference, after two days of meetings with Japanese officials. UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be with all of you. I apologize if we kept you waiting. I'd just like to say a few words about the United States-Japan relationship, and then I'd be happy to take your questions. I came here at the request of Secretary of State Rice to review the basis of our relationship with Japan, and I can tell you after two days, we've had excellent talks with my counterpart, Mr. Nishida, and we also had meetings with the Australian secretary of foreign affairs, Michael L'Estrange.

I can tell you about the U.S.-Japan relationship. It's very strong. We have an excellent relationship. We have very few problems in that relationship. We value Japan as our strongest ally in this region - it's one of our strongest allies worldwide. We have close relations, of course, between the President and the prime minister; very close relations between our Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense and their Japanese counterparts; and I've been working - since the day I took my office seven months ago - very closely with the Japanese government, and I've been pleased to do so. Japan is vital to the American position in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is vital to a lot of what we do not just in this region, but globally. And so we count Japan as one of our trusted friends and allies, and we're very pleased to have the strong relationship that we have.

We're looking forward very much - the president of the United States, President Bush, is looking forward to coming to Japan. It's the first stop on his trip to the region, to Kyoto. Secretary Rice is looking forward to future contacts, of course, with Foreign Minister Machimura, on all the issues that we have in front of us. I told the Japanese government during my two days here that we very much appreciate the contributions that Japan continues to make to the international coalition effort in Afghanistan. We certainly very much appreciate the efforts that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have made in Iraq. That's a dangerous mission, for all of us serving in Iraq, but the fact that we're there has been beneficial, because it's helped to stabilize the government and the situation. It's helped out the Iraqi people in a tough time for them. And in both Afghanistan and Iraq, we think we can be proud - Americans and Japanese - of the contribution that we are making together.

We also see Japan in this region as a very important partner in APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum. We are looking forward to future meetings in both of those institutions.

It's also true that, when we look at the United Nations, Japan is making an extraordinary contribution. Japan is one of the leading countries supporting, by its own personnel - civilian and military - the efforts of the United Nations. Japan is the second-largest contributor of financial resources, and together the United States and Japan provide nearly 40 percent of the financial resources of the entire UN system. And so we continue to support Japan to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and I pledged to all of my Japanese interlocutors over the last two days that we would work with them over the next several months to see if it's possible to fashion a plan that would receive General Assembly support in New York, so that Japan could enter the Security Council as a permanent member. Japan deserves to be on the council. Japan is a country with a global vision. It would strengthen the United Nations Security Council to see Japan become a permanent member, and that remains the strong wish of my government.

Let me just say that I also raised with each of my Japanese interlocutors, with a variety of people with whom I met: the BSE issue. And we hope very much that this issue can be resolved very soon. We believe that the United States and our industry have responded to the concerns of the Japanese people and Japanese government about safety. We believe that we've answered those questions. I can say that there is now a great deal of frustration in the United States that this problem has not been resolved after such a long time. You've seen the reaction from senior members of the United States Congress. I can tell you that reaction has been felt as well and shared by senior members of our government, and I conveyed this to my Japanese friends and interlocutors.

Finally, let me say, before we go to your questions, that Mr. Nishida and I had an exceedingly good conversation with the Australian government, led by Secretary for Foreign Affairs Michael L'Estrange. As you know, Japan, Australia, and the United States have decided to form this Trilateral Security Dialogue in order to discuss global issues, discuss regional issues, and to find a way that we can act together when that is necessary and when that is possible. And this first meeting at our level was very successful. We met for five hours today. We discussed the leading issues of this region. We discussed the Middle East situation, the situation in the United Nations, the situation in South Asia, and we're looking forward very much to our ministers getting together very shortly so that they can continue this dialogue. And we plan to be together many times during the year, because we take seriously the opportunity that Japan, the United States and Australia have for concerted action together and to be working together in all the important issues ahead of us.

So having said that by way of introduction, I'll be very happy to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: Mike Firn from Bloomberg News. On the issue of BSE, the food safety panel today said that meat under 20 months was low-risk, but it didn't set a date for the resumption of U.S. beef imports. Have you had any indications in your talks yesterday that a date will be set any time soon? And if not, what does the U.S. plan to do to get that sped up?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I was informed, in all the conversations I had about this, that the commission would continue its deliberations. I had not actually heard. I knew they were meeting this afternoon. I knew the meeting would conclude around 5:00, and so you've given me some news. We'll have to look at that ourselves and parse it and see what it means for this issue. But there's a sense of frustration in our government because we believe we have responded to the concerns about safety, and if the commission has concluded that meat under 20 months is low-risk, I would say that there has never been a case of BSE in cows of 20 months or younger - certainly not in terms of American cows, and so we believe the Japanese people can feel safe and can be assured that the United States is making every effort to ensure the safety of our meat products when they are exported to your country. It's been a long time now that this issue has been under investigation and under discussion here, and we have an important industry in the United States in beef. Our Congress feels very strongly that we have been a reliable partner for Japan, and so we're very hopeful that this issue would be resolved as soon as possible.

QUESTION: I'm Satoru Suzuki with TV Asahi. Mr. Secretary, my question is about North Korea. Now that the DPRK has agreed to dismantle all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, I'm wondering how seriously the State Department and the Bush administration as a whole will address the human rights abuses in North Korea and possibly Japan's abduction cases in connection with the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. Earlier today, three members of the families of the Japanese abductees left for Washington, D.C., where they will meet with Dr. Michael Greene at the National Security Council. Mr. Jay Lefkowitz, the President's special envoy for human rights in North Korea - however, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Lefkowitz has not been particularly visible from our viewpoint. As far as I know, he has not spoken in public since his appointment in August. Is this because you are concerned that whatever he says about the human rights problems in North Korea, that could negatively affect the six-party talks? When are you going to start pushing really vigorously for progress in North Korea's human rights abuses? And is there anything specific that you can do to help Japan, your trusted friend, resolve its abduction cases?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for your question. Let me just say that the United States has been and continues to be concerned by human rights abuses in North Korea. President Bush appointed Mr. Lefkowitz to be our ambassador for this issue. He has been active publicly. He has been meeting with a wide variety of individuals - both in groups, both in Washington and beyond - and we will be active on this issue because it's the right thing to do, because attention does need to be drawn to this issue.

And on the issue of the abductees, let me say that we have enormous sympathy for the victims and for the families of the victims here in Japan. We have been continuously supportive of the government of Japan on this issue. During the talks and beyond the talks, and the families are most welcome in the United States. They are welcome at the State Department, and they're welcome at the White House, and they will be shown every consideration. And we'll be interested to hear from them, and we'll show them great sympathy, as one should, given what these families have experienced. We have consistently drawn attention to the plight of human rights in North Korea, from our President on down, and that will continue. Thank you.

QUESTION: Juliana Gittler from Stars and Stripes. I'm curious about whether the talks included anything about transformation of military forces in Japan or the replacement of the Kitty Hawk or some of the other issues that have been alleged to be under discussion right now? And whether the tri-party talks included anything to do with mutual defense of Japan on a trilateral basis.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. Well, as you know, there are discussions under way between the United States and Japanese governments about the transformation of our military forces here in Japan. In fact, those talks continue at this very moment. They have not concluded. There are a number of important issues that have to be decided, and we hope that we can resolve these issues as soon as possible. The talks are going very well, but of course both governments have major decisions to make, and we're hopeful that the talks might conclude successfully this week. But we'll just have to see what decisions the Japanese government makes. We have been a reliable ally of Japan now for many decades, and all the commitments we've made as an ally of Japan, regarding the defense of Japan, of course, remain constant, and this relationship stands nearly unique in the world for the consistency that both governments have brought to the defense issue over many decades, and that will continue in the future.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Debora Cameron from The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. Australia's troops are in Iraq looking after Japan's troops. Japan is to decide what it wants to do in mid-December, and Australia will then follow on in March with a decision. Did you get a sense from your talks today about what Japan's intentions are in Iraq?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. The trilateral security dialogue gave me the opportunity to thank the Japanese and Australian governments for everything they've done in Iraq. All of us know that's a very challenging mission. It is for my country, and I know it is for yours. But it's a mission that needs to be done, because the Iraqis deserve and require the kind of support that we're giving them, as they work through their political process. You've seen elections last January and then the constitutional referendum of just a couple of weeks ago, and now elections to be held again on December 15. And as the Iraqis work through that, our troops, our forces are providing security in the country that allows them to have this political process. So, it is the sovereign right of any country to decide if they're going to send their troops into a situation like that, and of course we respect that sovereign right. Nonetheless, it's the strong hope of the United States that Japan will decide to maintain its troop presence in Iraq beyond December of this year, and our very strong hope that Australia, of course, will make the same commitment. We have every reason to believe that it will. But it's not for me to make that decision. It's not for our government - it's for the government of Japan, on a sovereign basis, to make it.

We had discussions, both bilaterally over the last two days and trilaterally, about the situation in Iraq. We talked about the deployment of Australian and Japanese forces. We talked about - in fact what all three of us are doing in Afghanistan, as well. And again, we very much appreciate the commitment that both Japan and Australia have made in both places.

QUESTION: David Pilling, Financial Times. I wanted to go back to the transformation talks, which you say could be concluded by the end of this week. I wondered if, from the U.S. perspective, what you see as the main sticking points, and the possible solutions to those sticking points.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh gosh, I wish I could give you the ins and outs, and even have you join the talks, but it might not be a good idea to do that. You know, these are negotiations over very serious issues concerning the defense of Japan and the deployment of American military forces here, and I know there are people from the State Department, the Defense Department - my colleagues - in fact, in discussions right now. And so the last thing in the world that I want to do is say anything about those discussions that might interfere with them. But we had good talks with the Japanese government; I certainly raised this issue, and I got good responses from them. But, the Japanese government now needs some time to reflect on the final choices that it wishes to make, and when the Japanese government has concluded what they want to conclude, I'm sure they'll let us know, and then we'll let you know. But, we've done a lot of work, there's been a serious effort on both sides; these are complicated issues, as you can imagine. And so were hopeful for success, and were working hard at it, and we'll just have to see what happens in the next few days.

QUESTION: I'm Ms. Sugiura from Sankei newspaper. What I'd like to ask you is about the relocation of the Futenma air base, [as well as about] the relocation issue of the Futenma airport. This reduction plan of the Henoko shores, there are many other ideas too. Do you think it is possible to resolve the issue before the visit of President Bush? Another problem is the increase of the military budget of China. Secretary Rumsfeld visited China and expressed his concern. Did you also talk about the China issue in your talk this time?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for your question. I think the less said of the specifics of the negotiations between Japan and the United States, the better. Of course, the issue that you referred to is on the table, but these are decisions that the Japanese government has to make in concert with the U.S. And again, as I said, yes, we would hope that these issues could be resolved before President Bush visits Kyoto in just a couple of weeks time. We would expect that would be the case, but there's still some remaining hard work that needs to be done. And so, we'll have to wait and see if we can conclude these talks as quickly as possible. Concerning China, we had very good discussions about the region, about the Asia-Pacific region. And of course, I made the point that the United States intends to retain its military presence in the region: our naval and air forces, our ground forces; we will maintain our treaty commitments that we've had to Japan, and to South Korea, and to Australia and our other allies and partners in the region. We are very much involved in this region, the United States, through APEC, and through the ASEAN Regional Forum, and through the strong bilateral relationships we've had with all the countries I mentioned, including Indonesia.

And I think we've made our views clearly known on China. We seek, too, a good relationship with China, not a confrontational relationship. We seek a policy of engagement with China. We hope very much that China will take up its responsibilities in this region and work with us and with Japan, Australia, Indonesia, and the other countries, for continued peace and continued security. China played a very useful role in the six-party talks and was very helpful in fashioning the agreement that was produced on September 19. There are other areas where the United States and China might not always agree - we have our economic differences in terms of trade - but on the larger questions, I know, Secretary Rumsfeld did raise some questions about the nature of the Chinese military buildup, about the high levels of Chinese military spending, and he simply asked those questions. And so now China can respond to those questions that the Secretary asked. But the United States considers the Asia-Pacific region to be a region of vital concern for our country and for our future security. As I said, we will continue to see a robust, very vigorous American diplomatic presence here, and military presence here in this region. There are many countries that rely on us to be a partner in security, and we will honor all the commitments we've made. And Americans in general understand the great importance of this region to our economic livelihood and to our security as we look at the challenges ahead of us over the next generation.

QUESTION: Thank you. Khaldon Azhari, Petra News Agency. Sir, would you please elaborate more on the details of your talks with your Japanese and Australian partners about the Middle East, and whether or not they included talks about Syria, especially the latest development there - in Syria.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. Yes, we had a discussion about Syria, and of course, I relayed the concerns that the United States has had about the views, the attitudes of the Syrian government and many of its actions; and we did discuss the report of Mr. Mehlis, the United Nations special prosecutor. Secretary Rice - I know both the President and Secretary Rice - spoke about this on Friday, and Secretary Rice spoke about it further over the weekend ... we know - looking for, of course, a response from the Syrian government, as to its responsibilities as well as those in the Lebanese government who have authority and who may have been involved in this matter.

In general, our discussions in the Trilateral Security Dialogue concerned Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. As you know, the position of the United States Government on Iran is that we believe that Iran should return to the negotiations with the European governments, and Iran should not continue to unilaterally walk away from talking about the future of its nuclear programs. We don't believe Iran should become a nuclear weapons state. We believe Iran has, of course, not been truthful with the IAEA, for a period of 17 years about its nuclear research. And we spent a lot of time talking about Iran in my conversations with the Japanese government and will continue to do that.

QUESTION: Steve Herman, VOA News. Getting back to China for a second, I'm wondering if any discussions came up about the recent aggressive actions by the Chinese in the East China Sea. They've put a flotilla out there near the Japanese EEZ. According to Japanese sources, they've even locked on with their radar to Japanese military aircraft, and they've been coming into the area. How do you perceive this threat, and is this part of the discussion with the trilats or the bilats you've been having?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. We're of course aware of the situation that you spoke about. And while I don't want to get into the details publicly - you'll understand why - we hope and trust in situations like this there is going to be forbearance on the part of the Chinese authorities and that they'll agree to work out any differences with Japan, and sometimes in the case with other countries, in a peaceful and non-threatening way. We did not actually discuss this in these talks. I did not raise it, and my Japanese counterparts did not raise it. But I think you know of our strong support for reason and for the non-use of force in for non-threatening behavior on the part of all parties in situations like this.

QUESTION: Sunohara with Nikkei Newspaper. As you know, we are facing a worsening bilateral relationship between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea because of Mr. Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine. And we have so many issues, including North Korea, in this region, it's much better for us to have better relationships with China and South Korea: not only for Japan but also for the United States, it's much better to see better relationships between those countries. Having said that, I'm just curious to know how you could describe the U.S. position in this regard. You are positive or negative or neutral about Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. This issue was discussed, as you can imagine, given the prominence of the issue in the news. It's our strong hope that - I believe Ambassador Schieffer said this publicly last week - it's our strong hope that Japan and China and the other countries in the region can discuss these problems and move forward. It is in the interests of the United States that Japan have good relations with China and with South Korea and other countries. And it's always good to have dialogue about these issues. It's good to have reasoned debate about these issues. And we hope very much that any misunderstandings can be resolved and that the countries of the region can look forward as well. We have so much that we have to accomplish in this region to maintain peace and security and good relations among countries. That is certainly the view of the United States: that we should have forward-looking relations in this region.

QUESTION: James Kitfield of National Journal Magazine. Good to see you, Mr. Under Secretary. With the trilaterals, with our discussions with Japan about taking a larger strategic role in this region for stability, you get the sense that we've made the decision or looked at the situation with China and said that our alliance relationships in this region need some reinvigorating. I wonder if you would talk about that? Are the alliance structures - I was just in Korea with Mr. Rumsfeld - and you got the sense there also that the Americans are sort of saying that the alliance structures need reinvigorating, that we're facing sort of a new, challenging environment; and we need to look at these anew, and strengthen some, etc. Could you sort of talk about the whole strategic view there?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. James, thank you for that question. There's no question that in Washington we see our alliances in this region as fundamentally important to our future security. And if anything, we believe that the Asia-Pacific region is going to be more important to the United States in the years ahead, even than it has been in the past. And so we very much value our alliances. I don't think there's a need to restructure them. There's no need to somehow rethink them, because they have served us very well for the last several decades, and we are certain they will serve us well for the future as well.

It begins with our alliance with Japan. It is the cornerstone of America's security relationship in the Asia-Pacific region. A U.S.-Japan defense relationship, security, political, economic relationship - the overall alliance - is essential to peace and security in the region. And so we begin there. And that relationship and that alliance are very strong. And you'll see when the president comes to Kyoto, that we act to reinforce that alliance and to continue to value it. The U.S.-Australia relationship is also fundamental to the American position here and American interests. Our relationship with South Korea, of course; our relations with Thailand and with Singapore and with the Philippines and Indonesia - I could mention many other countries. I think there is an increased understanding that in the next several decades, the United States is going to have to remain fundamentally involved here. And so we don't anticipate any major change in direction. American troops will continue to be deployed in this region. America's military strength in this region will remain undiminished. Certainly in terms of our diplomatic strategy, I think you'll see more attention paid to this region, and you'll see that in the visits of our president and our of secretary of state in November and again in early 2006. And you'll see it in what we do to strengthen our relationship with Indonesia and to work with the very good government there on all of its challenges. We think we've made some progress in the six-party talks. Now we need to see that progress confirmed in the way that North Korea meets its obligations, but that's certainly been an area of intense activity for our government, specifically Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary Hill, over the last couple of months.

So as we look at our worldwide global interests, they start here in the Asia-Pacific region, and they are built on these alliances that we created after the Second World War. They're still serving as well. We take this opportunity - President Bush will, certainly; and I at my level have done so over the last two days - just to thank the Japanese government for the relationship that we've had, and to commit to them that we will continue to be their friend and ally.

QUESTION: Mitsuru Obe of Jiji Press news agency. I have a question about the Security Council issue. You said that Japan and the United States will work together to fashion a plan that might win support in the General Assembly. But the United States was against the G-4 plan, which Japan supported. What makes you think that the two countries can work together? What kind of plan will it be? And how will it differ from the G-4 plan?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. All of the members of the G-4 are friends, and some are allies of the United States. Two very strong friends and two, very strong allies. And so it was nothing against the particular countries involved, but our sense is that the Security Council has worked rather well since the end of the Cold War. It is the part of the United Nations system that is probably least in need of reform, and we felt, frankly, it was more important for the September summit to divert our attention to the management, budget, and Secretariat reforms; to the creation of the Human Rights Council, and to the Peacebuilding Commission. Now that we are on the way to achieving those reforms, we are ready to return to a discussion of expansion of the Security Council.

In contrast to the G-4 proposal, we would support a more modest expansion of the Security Council, say, to 20 or 21 members. And it could be a combination of new permanent members and new non-permanent members, or all new permanent members, or all new non-permanent members. There are many options that we could consider. The one constant in our relationship is that we want to support Japan for membership for the reasons that I've already explained. It's not going to be possible for the United States to support the G-4 proposal. It is too ambitious. In one stroke, we would expand the Council from 15 to 25 or 26 seats, and that's too big. It's too unwieldy. It risks calling into question the efficiency and the operations of the Security Council itself.

So if we can find a way to agree internationally on a more modest expansion, and if we can find a way to make sure that Japan is one of the countries to be added, the United States will be very interested in reaching a solution. But we have made a commitment to the government of Japan, and I reaffirmed that commitment over the last two days, that we will support Japan. We will work together to try to find a way forward, and we'll work with all the other partners in the international system. And let's see what we can accomplish in the period ahead, in the next several months.

QUESTION: Three points I'd like to cover. One is about Iraq. In the tripartite dialogue you had today, in the case of Japan, we have the function of safety and security, taking care of Great Britain and Australia. When it was extended, is there any possibility that about the security problem of Japanese troops - was there anything new in your dialogue? Secondly, about the realignment of U.S. forces in this region, I understand it is being negotiated now. At this point, which side has the ball between Japan and the United States? Which side now carries the ball to make a new proposal as far as you know? The third point is about the anti-terrorism activities in your trilateral or bilateral talks, is there any specific talk done in your talk today? I'm Yamada with NHK Television.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for your questions, and I'll just try to cover them very briefly. There wasn't anything really new in our conversations of Iraq, because we talked a lot about what's ahead of the Iraqis and us with the elections in December and the need to sustain troop levels through 2006, because there's a big job to do and an important job. And certainly I made the request on the part of the United States that Australia and Japan would continue to serve with us in Iraq. It's very important. Both are strong allies, and we appreciate their presence there.

Second, on transformation, I don't know. I guess the ball is probably shared by both teams, and both of us have responsibility to make sure that we finish with a success. And we hope very much that that can be the case. This is an enormously complicated issue, of course. But it's one that we've worked very hard on. There have been lots of discussions, and those negotiations continue.

And finally on counterterrorism, that's a preoccupation of the United States and Japan in our bilateral relationship, it's also one of the issues that lie at the heart of our trilateral dialogue - Australia, Japan, United States. We have already had expert talks at the assistant-secretary level a couple of weeks back among the three governments. We talked again today about that issue. And I think when our ministers get together in a very short time, that will be at the heart of their agenda: How can the three of us cooperate together in this region, in Asia, to stem the tide of terrorism, and more globally, how can we be effective together? It's one of the reasons we wanted to have this Trilateral Security Dialogue. It's one of the most important issues. And I think we've had good cooperation among the three governments, and that will continue. Thank you very much.