Bush, Japan's Koizumi To Discuss North Korea, Iran

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will discuss North Korea, Iran and a wide range of issues when they meet in Washington June 29, according to a senior administration official.

In a June 27 background briefing at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center in Washington, the official previewed plans for the visit, which is expected to be Koizumi’s last to the United States before he steps down as prime minister in September.

The two leaders have a full schedule of meetings, starting with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. 

Breaking from regular business, Bush and Koizumi will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, on June 30 to visit Graceland, the estate of American rock and roll star Elvis Presley.  The prime minister is a long-time Elvis fan, personally choosing 25 favorite songs for a charity CD that was released in Japan in 2002. (See related article.)


Asked about economic issues on the agenda, the administration official praised the strength of Japan’s economy.

“I think everybody's very happy to see that the Japanese economy looks like it's in recovery … after some 15 years of sort of stagnation and slow growth, that there appears to be a sustained recovery.  That's very positive.  That, we think, is linked to Prime Minister Koizumi's domestic reforms that he's undertaken to try to trim bureaucracy and open the system a little bit,” the official said.

The official said the United States welcomed Japan’s June 21 decision to lift a more than two-year long ban on imports of U.S. beef following the implementation of a new inspection process for U.S. meat processing plants. (See related article.)

“[W]hile this has been a difficult issue in the past, there is a process in place with a statement by the Japanese side that they have agreed in principle to lift the import restriction. There's a path ahead that needs to be implemented. So that's very positive. And I think we're happy with that.”


The official said Bush and Koizumi would discuss concerns about North Korea, including that country’s recent announcement of plans to test launch a long-range ballistic missile.  (See related article.)

But no new initiatives on North Korea are expected to come out of the meeting, the official said, emphasizing that the joint statement negotiated in September 2005 through the Six-Party Talks among the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and North and South Korea already provides a sufficient framework for discussion.

“Now that we have this joint statement, it's the first time that the North Koreans have pledged to all five parties on paper that they will abandon all nuclear weapons and all existing nuclear programs.  The idea of coming up with new proposals or new initiatives when you have that commitment in writing from the North Koreans doesn't make a whole lot of sense,” the official said.  (See related article.)

The top priority for both the United States and Japan is to convince Pyongyang to return to the Six-Party negotiations to implement the joint statement, the official said.

Iran’s nuclear activities will also be a topic of discussion during the visit, the official said.

“We consider the Japanese a very important partner, and we consult very closely with them with regard to Iran.  And I think they will talk about the range of issues from the diplomatic efforts that are being undertaken, to discussions about what they would do if the diplomatic efforts fail.”


Asked how Koizumi’s departure from office will affect relations between the United States and Japan, the administration official said the two countries have a strong alliance based on common interests that doesn’t depend on personal friendship between leaders.

“[W]hile there is a very good personal friendship between the two leaders, and that's important, and that is a nice way to look at the high level of cooperation in the relationship, there is a sturdy foundation beneath that top-level friendship that's deeply rooted in sort of broadening common interests and common values.”

That foundation of common interests and values forms the basis for bilateral cooperation between the United States and Japan in areas as diverse as Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea, the official said.


Asked about the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq, the official said the Bush administration considers that a positive development.

With the announcement June 19 by Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki that the southern province of Muthanna would be the first transferred to Iraqi control, it became clear that Japan’s humanitarian mission in the region was completed successfully, the official said.

But Prime Minister Koizumi has made it clear that “Japan is not leaving the Iraq effort,” the official stressed.  “They will continue to play an important role … through airlift operations and through liaison on a national provincial reconstruction team.”

Japan is the second-largest donor to Iraqi reconstruction, the official noted.

“[T]his is very much along the lines of the plan of stand up, stand down. So I think we're quite happy that the Japanese mission was accomplished successfully and that Japan will still be very supportive of the effort in Iraq and will transition to its new mission just as others involved transitioned to their new mission, the official said.

A transcript of the briefing is available on the Washington Foreign Press Center Web site.