Negroponte Speaks at Aug. 3 Press Conference

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte
U.S. Embassy
Tokyo, Japan

August 3, 2007

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE NEGROPONTE: Thank you very much. Good afternoon everyone. It's a pleasure to be back in Japan, even though only briefly. Let me begin by saying that Japan and the United States are close friends and allies. Our relationship is solid, and we share many common values and interests. We are cooperating at every level to enhance our bilateral relationship and advance our shared global goals. I was here - or have been here - to have broad-ranging discussions on the many aspects of issues that have an impact on our relationship. I met earlier today with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki, with Defense Minister Koike, with Vice Foreign Minister Yachi, and Vice Defense Minister Moriya. I also had the opportunity to meet with the prime minister's advisor for the abduction issue, Counselor Nakayama.

Yesterday I was in Manila at the ASEAN Regional Forum, where leaders from the United States, Japan, and many other countries came together to address regional security. We are making progress on a broad range of issues, including counterterrorism, marine security, and disaster relief, to name a few. The United States views itself as a Pacific country. We are tied to the region in so many different ways through trade and business, as well as family and cultural ties. Our security and prosperity depends on security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are pleased with the recent six-party talks informal heads-of-delegation meeting in Beijing, which has built momentum for the next phase. The latest talks were encouraging, but we have before us a long way to go to realize complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. All six parties are working on this process together. The United States and Japan have a common interest in this denuclearization, and Japan continues to be a vital partner, or a vital participant rather, in the six-party talks. While we focus on the goal of verifiable denuclearization in the six-party talks, the United States continues to urge the DPRK to address the abduction issue directly with Japan.

Turning to another area of cooperation, Iraq, it is true that political reconciliation there will take time, and Iraq will need sustained international support. We very much appreciate Japan's continued support for coalition efforts in Iraq. The United States-Japan alliance continues to be the cornerstone of our security cooperation and the foundation of stability in the region. Both of our governments remain committed to the entire United States Forces, Japan transformation and realignment plan. We look forward to fully implementing this plan to ensure that our alliance is prepared to meet future challenges.

Of course, as two of the world's largest economies, the United States and Japan continue to engage on the full range of shared economic and trade issues affecting both countries. The United States applauds the Japanese government's commitment to regulatory, banking, and other reforms; and we will continue to work closely with Japan in these areas.

Close consultations with Japan are a regular part of my duties as Deputy Secretary of State. I hope that you all will continue to welcome me here on a regular basis. Thank you very much, and I'm pleased to turn it over to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm Satoru Suzuki with TV-Asahi, Japanese television network. Now in the wake of Sunday's election in Japan, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) now controls the Upper House, and I wonder if you met with any members, or member, of the Japanese opposition party during your stay in Tokyo. If not, why not? Most importantly, the DPJ has expressed itself against the extension of a special counterterrorism law, which is due to expire in November. How concerned are you, Mr. Secretary, about the possible failure of the Japanese Diet to extend the law, and could you explain once again, if I may ask you to do so, why it's so important for Japan to continue its support for Operation Enduring Freedom? Thank you.

D/S NEGROPONTE: Thank you. On your first question, no, I did not meet with any members of the opposition. Perhaps if my visit had been longer - I'm only here for one day - I might have done so, but under the circumstances, I decided to limit my consultations to members of the government, in view of the time available. But I think it is correct to say that our Ambassador and his staff here in Tokyo plan to engage in discussions with various members of the opposition, so we certainly will have the benefit of direct contact with the opposition and the benefit of knowing their points of view.

I think you then asked me about the impact of the opposition's - their point of view on the question of these special measures that are being undertaken in the Arabian Sea, and I think my answer to your question would be, yes, there is concern on our part if these refueling operations by Japan were to stop. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Japan; this is an issue that affects and interests the international community as a whole. There are numerous countries involved in these patrolling operations in the Arabian Sea. They are acting in the interest of the international community as whole, and to interrupt those refueling operations could negatively affect - and probably would negatively affect - our efforts to prevent terrorism and prevent the passage of undesirable products and people through that area, so I would say that these activities by the government of Japan are much appreciated. They're extremely useful, and in our view it would be harmful to international interests as a whole if they were to be interrupted, so we hope that it will be possible for them to continue, which as I understand it means that we hope that the law - the required law - will be extended.

QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. I'm just following up on my colleague's question. In the event that this legislation, this antiterrorist legislation, the renewal were to be delayed, could there be any effect or linkage with the possible sale of US F-22 fighters by the United States to Japan?

D/S NEGROPONTE: Let me start my reply to that question with the point that I made right at the very beginning of my statement. The United States and Japan are close friends and allies. And our attitude toward each other, our way of working with each other, is that we seek ways to be mutually helpful to each other and mutually supportive. I canft speculate for you at the moment how this question of the legislation will turn out. Ifve told you what I think some of the adverse consequences might be, but to then create a hypothesis and ask what knock-on effects might result, might come as a consequence, I think is asking for too much of a speculative reply. So Ifd rather not try and speculate any kind of an answer except to reiterate the depth of our friendship and our alliance and the fact that that friendship would certainly inform and inspire any reaction that we might have to that situation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Tsutomu Ishiai, with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a former Washington correspondent. I just have some follow-up questions regarding antiterror measures or legislation in Japan. During the meetings with your counterparts, like Mr. Shiozaki or Madame Koike, did you ask any specific request regarding how to extend, like the terms, lengths, or the way of, the contents of the resolution? That is first question. And also, if at this moment, when you discussed that issue with the Japanese counterpart, do you see any differences on the point if you have any specific request or if you have any suggestions regarding how to extend the resolution?

D/S NEGROPONTE: No, I mean this is a matter of - to be honest with you, I did not get into that kind of an exchange. It was more a question of simply being made aware of the current status of the legislation and what in the view of my Japanese counterparts would be required in order for it to be extended. But obviously that is a matter for the Japanese government and the Japanese legislature to decide. And this certainly would be neither appropriate nor within any level of the area of competence of mine to make specific recommendations about how to get that done. Our interest simply, and as I said earlier, we believe that the interest of the international community as a whole and the various allies who are operating with us in the Arabian Sea would be that, if at all possible, this legislation be extended.

QUESTION: One more different issue, that is, comfort women. The gcomfort womenh resolution so-called has passed in the US Congress, I think last week. Did you or your counterpart raise that issue during the conversation? And if you have any further explanation, or if you have any difference in position that your Congress has and that your government has?

D/S NEGROPONTE: Well, we didn't get into that discussion, although it is an issue that I've discussed in the past with Japanese government officials. And we certainly understand the concerns that have been expressed. But we've also taken the position that the trafficking in women that occurred during World War II was deplorable and that it was a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions. So we extend our sincere and deep sympathy to the victims, but we also feel that the government of Japan has taken steps to address this issue, including apologies by a number of previous government officials. And in October of last year, Prime Minister Abe reaffirmed the statements. So what I would say to you is that the US-Japan relationship is strong and built on a solid foundation, and that the Honda resolution to which you refer will not change this. We hope that Japan will continue to work with its neighbors to address this question and other issues arising from the past and cultivate relationships that allow them to move forward to address current opportunities and challenges. It is important that the countries of East Asia have constructive relationships that allow them to move forward in addressing current opportunities and challenges. Lastly, I would mention to you that another resolution has been passed in one of the committees of our Congress citing the great importance of the US-Japan relationship and citing the importance of the alliance between our two countries. So I'd say that in our Congress there is a great reservoir of friendship and good feeling towards Japan.

QUESTION: My name is Deguchi with Kyodo News. I just would like to ask you on your last meeting with Chinese foreign minister in Manila. Have you discussed about the DPRK nuclear issue, and have you agreed on ways of disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, and have you raised concern about the Chinese food contamination issue?

D/S NEGROPONTE: On the latter issue, I did not raise it, but the foreign minister volunteered himself that the government of China is aware of the problems it faces in this regard and that it is doing everything it can and do everything within its power to effectively address contamination issues and product safety issues - the foreign minister also mentioned the question of product safety - as best they can. On the nuclear question, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, let me answer you in general terms: Yes, it was a question that we discussed, but then I'd say that there were discussions about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula amongst many of us in different settings, both multilaterally and bilaterally. And I think the view is at the moment that we've reached an important point. The North Koreans have stopped operating the reactor and the related facilities at Yongbyon. They're allowing inspectors to come in from the International Atomic Energy Agency. And so now we have to move to the next phase, and in that regard there will be these working-group meetings during the month of August - there will be different groups that are visualized by the six-party talks - and then the meeting of the parties again, either at the end of this month or the beginning of the next month. We're now in the critical phase where North Korea will have to declare its nuclear facilities, and then we have to move to the phase of disablement. So this is a step-by-step process, and I think we can look with some satisfaction that the initial step has been taken. But as I said earlier in my prepared remarks, there's still a lot of very difficult and important work to be done. And I think we very much count on our partnership with the government of China in addition to our partnership with the government of South Korea and Japan as we work to achieve this denuclearization.

QUESTION: My name is Yoshitomi from Mainichi Newspapers. Ifd like to ask about abductee issue. Yesterday in ARF meeting, there is a huge difference between Japan and North Korea. So could you intend to urge both countries and have any concrete ideas to compromise? Is that possible?

D/S NEGROPONTE: First, let me say this: As I mentioned earlier, I met today with the prime minister's advisor for the abduction issue, Counselor Nakayama. And my reason for doing that was to of course hear the government of Japan's views on this subject and also to demonstrate the great interest and concern that the government of the United States has about this issue. Now there are meetings foreseen directly between Japan and North Korea on the issue of abductees, and ultimately that's going to be the best way to reach some kind of understanding or agreement: if it's done bilaterally between the two countries most directly involved and concerned. But in the meanwhile, what I would like to reassure you is that the United States government takes that issue very, very seriously and will do what it can in the context of the six-party talks, and also bilaterally with the government of Japan, do what it can to help bring this issue to a satisfactory resolution.

QUESTION: Stewart Biggs from Bloomberg News. Just to go back to your first remarks on the extension of antiterrorist legislation. You said that that would from now on, or at least in the initial stage, be an issue for the ambassador and his staff here to approach the opposition party on the issue of whether they will support the extension.

D/S NEGROPONTE: Did I say that? I'm not sure I did. Just so that we get the questions started on the right predicate, I think I was asked if I met the opposition as a question of fact, and I said "no," that the Embassy has contact or intends to have contact with the opposition. But I don't think I linked to trying to work out this issue.

QUESTION: There were news reports yesterday that the opposition leader had refused to meet Ambassador Schieffer. Can you confirm that that's the case, and have you been given any indication by the Embassy staff or Mr. Schieffer that future attempts to meet the opposition party, opposition leader will be more successful?

D/S NEGROPONTE: Ifd be surprised if that were the last word on the subject.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: They have agreed to meet. I'm going to meet with him next week. We were never told that he was not going to meet with us. We were told that he was going to meet with us next week. Sorry.

D/S NEGROPONTE: No, that's fine. That's for the ambassador to answer. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just on a completely different aspect of the nuclear issue, there was a very serious nuclear accident here in Japan a few weeks ago at the time of a large earthquake. Japan - not only Japan but also Korea and China - have large nuclear power programs. These are all earthquake-prone countries. How much concerned is the United States about the possibility of a very serious nuclear accident occurring in one of these countries?

D/S NEGROPONTE: Obviously one of the great concerns about nuclear energy generally is that it be carried out in a safe fashion, whether it has to do with the construction of these facilities or with the handling and disposition of nuclear materials. Certainly in our own country, and I know here in Japan, an enormous amount of energy, expense, and care is given to ensuring that nuclear facilities are as safe as possible. So we are always concerned about nuclear safety, and we think it's the responsibility of countries and governments to carry out their nuclear energy projects in as safe a manner as possible. But having said that, we also believe that nuclear energy is a very important - carbon free, I might add - way of producing electricity and therefore also can have a very positive contribution to this entire issue of climate change. So in the context of the climate-change and global-warming issue, our government for its part is an advocate of increased use of safe nuclear energy as a way of making a positive contribution to the alleviating the climate change issue. Thank you very much. Please have a good weekend.