Ambassador Schieffer Speaks at Post-Election Press Conference

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer
Tokyo American Center
Tokyo, Japan

November 6, 2008

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Yesterday was a remarkable day in the history of the United States. Our Declaration of Independence contains these immortal words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Those words became the conscience of America. At the time that they were written, the only people who could vote in America were white males who owned property. Still, the power of those words, the power of their appeal to justice and equality, called our nation to a broader application of their meaning.

First, the vote was extended to white males who did not own property. Then the Civil War in our country was fought to abolish slavery and extend the rights of citizenship promised in the Declaration of Independence to black Americans. In the 1920s, the conscience of America spoke again and said that "all men are created equal" really meant all men and women, and the vote was allowed for women. During the 1950s and 1960s, we came to understand that the phrase "separate but equal" had a hollow ring. If one American had to be separated from another because of race, then there could never be real equality.

Over my lifetime, I have seen great changes in America. We have moved relentlessly toward a society that judges people in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King "on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin." I have proudly served in an Administration that has been the most diverse in history. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others have served in positions of power and influence in this administration more than any other in history.

But yesterday was a very special day by any measure in the history of America. Regardless of which party won, either a woman was going to be Vice President of the United States, or an African-American man was going to be President. Yesterday as I watched Americans react to the realization that the fullness of the American promise was about to be met for all of our citizens, I felt a tremendous surge of pride in our country. The conscience of America had spoken again in a clear voice: no American - regardless of their skin, their race, their color - would be denied access to make a contribution to our country because of their race or gender.

Regardless of their race, regardless of their gender, regardless of their religion, regardless of their origin, regardless of their party, regardless of their politics - I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans felt the same way yesterday that I did. It was a great day for the American dream.

Today, citizens of the world are asking what impact this change in government will have on their relationship with America. I hope that I can reassure the people of Japan that America stands with you today as we stood with you yesterday, as we will stand with you tomorrow. While there will no doubt be differences in approach and style between this administration and the next, I am confident that President Obama will value and nurture the U.S.-Japan alliance and friendship just as President Bush did. He will do so for the same reason that Democratic and Republican administrations since the end of the war have done so - because it is in the vital and strategic interests of America.

And now I look forward to any questions you might have.

QUESTION: About trade policy and what it will mean for Japan: President-elect Obama has reportedly said that he is against the free-trade agreements with Columbia and South Korea, and now that the Democrats will control the House, the Senate, and the White House, do you still believe it possible for the U.S. Congress to ratify the FTA with South Korea, or will they have to renegotiate the FTA with Korea, especially labor and environmental standards? What about the implications for Japan? Will Japan and the United States have to wait until after the ratification of the Korean FTA before we start negotiations on FTA or EPA agreements between our two countries?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Suzuki-san, you have a raft of questions in your question. I think each administration will decide what its trade policy is going to be. And this administration - the incoming administration - will be no different. But I think all of us realize that we live in a globalized world, and I think that what members of both parties have said is that they believe in trade. What they want is - their definition of what is fair trade may differ. And this administration's definition may well be different than the last, but I think that the commitment to trade is present in every administration. And I think that today I can't tell you what President Obama is going to do with regard to trade policy. That's something that he will come up with. But I believe that trade is here to stay, and I believe that every administration will try to figure out how they can make it balanced and favorable to both parties.

QUESTION: Imagawa from Hokkaido Shimbun. With the Obama administration, is the U.S. policy towards Japan going to change, especially in regards to the abduction issue with North Korea? Is the Obama administration going to be more pro-dialogue compared to the Bush administration? And people fear that Japan may be left behind in the North Korean abduction issue. And also, in regards to Afghanistan, the war against terrorism, Japan is making contributions in the refueling operations, but is the next administration going to ask Japan for more on-the-ground contribution or funds contributions, financial contributions? Next question is: The Japanese ruling party has more connection with the Republican Party and not so much connection with the Democratic Party, and some people point out that Prime Minister Aso doesn't have many connections with the Democratic Party, so we are wondering whether we can establish a good network with the Democratic administration or not. So I would appreciate your comment on this. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Let me answer that last question first. I don't believe that there is a Democratic foreign policy toward Japan or a Republican foreign policy toward Japan. I believe there is an American foreign policy toward Japan. And I believe that the Japanese government will be able to establish a good rapport - any prime minister would be able to establish a good rapport with the United States, because we share so much common ground. And I'm confident that Prime Minister Aso can create the kind of relationship with the new president that past prime ministers have had with previous presidents. That is a bipartisan characteristic of our policy, and when you think about the names that are familiar with Japanese-American good relations, you think of people like Edwin O. Reischauer, who was the ambassador here when there was a Democratic administration. You think about Mike Mansfield, who was a Democrat himself and served both President Carter and President Reagan. The list goes on. There were no individuals who were more helpful to me when I came here to Japan - and have continued to be helpful to me as I have served as ambassador to Japan - than Vice President Mondale and Speaker Foley. They preceded me in the job that I have. It wasn't difficult for us to get along. It wasn't difficult for us to talk about the relationship, because Democrats and Republicans since the end of the war have believed that American security was dependent upon and a good, healthy relationship and alliance with Japan. Nothing happened yesterday that is going to change that. And I think that the Japanese people can have some measure of confidence that a President Obama is going to understand - as previous Democratic presidents have understood - the importance of this relationship. And I'm quite confident in saying that, and I think the people of Japan should have confidence in the history and relationship that we have had to this point.

With regard to the policy on the abductions, let me also answer that with regard to Afghanistan. I think this administration - I think the next administration - would appreciate what Japan has done with regard to the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean and the war on terror. Having said that, I think everyone understands that a great deal still needs to be done in Afghanistan, and America would welcome a greater contribution by Japan to those efforts in Afghanistan. I think the entire international community would welcome a greater contribution on the part of Japan to what is going on in Afghanistan, because it is important to the security of the international community that Afghanistan succeed in its quest for freedom. No one will benefit if Afghanistan becomes a failed state. We did that once before, and the result was that the Taliban took control and the tragedy of 9/11 flowed out of that. No one wants to see that happen again, because everyone recognizes that a failed state can harbor terrorists and can be a threat not only to the United States but to countries around the world. So I think that anything that Japan could do to help in Afghanistan would be appreciated by any administration.

With regard to the abduction issue, I think Senator Obama made a statement when the delisting occurred talking about abductions, and the realization that he was sympathetic to Japan's position on that. He has two young daughters, and I don't think that anyone that has a child - let alone two young daughters - could not be sympathetic to the story of Megumi Yokota. And when you hear that story - and I have heard the Yokotas tell that story to many, many people - and every time it has been told to an American, it brings tears to their eyes. It's because it is a terrible tragedy, and I think any president of the United States would be responsive to that and would understand the sensitive nature of it and would be supportive of Japan's efforts - not only to resolve the Yokota case, but the other abduction cases that exist with North Korea.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Ambassador. My name is Shirato, working for Mainichi Shimbun newspapers. Let me ask about the question of U.S. bases in Okinawa. I'd like to switch to Japanese. Currently between the U.S. and Japanese government, in particular the reduction of costs in Futenma base has been discussed and have arrived at an agreement to have an alternative base, but unfortunately not much progress has been seen. In the event of the Obama administration, in order to pursue and see progress in this agreement, is there a possibility of the U.S. working with Japan and coming to a greater consultation with Japan? Are there other issues that would relate to the Okinawa relocation issue?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I think that the Futenma replacement facility is a part of a larger package that we have negotiated with Japan. We call it force transformation. We think it is very important to updating and modernizing the U.S.-Japan alliance, and it has many, many parts to it. We negotiated that agreement with the government of Japan. At the time, that government was headed by Prime Minister Koizumi. Because there have been subsequent prime ministers in Japan, doesn't mean that that agreement went away. I think the same principle would apply with regard to America. I think two sovereign governments negotiated what they believe to be in the best interest of their governments and are going about taking steps to implement it. And I would expect that the Obama administration would follow in that same course, that they would hope that the agreement could be implemented. Obviously, every administration is the judge of their own policies, but I think we are on sound footing when we both say that, regardless of who heads a government when we have these kinds of agreements, we try to carry them out for the mutual benefit of our two nations.

QUESTION: Thank you Ambassador for this occasion. My name is Kyoko Yamaguchi from the Yomiuri Shimbun, and I have two questions. One is if you have ever had a chance to speak with Mr. Obama. I'd like to know what kind of talks you had. And if you have not, whether you would have any conversation in the future? What kind of things do you plan to tell him with regard to the U.S.-Japan alliance? Second part of my question is, I suppose you have publicly said that you would be stepping down with the end of the Bush administration, and I was wondering if you have changed your mind?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: This may come as a surprise to you, but I've not talked to Senator Obama, and I think Senator Obama has a lot of people to talk to before he would need to talk to me. I don't expect to do that. Presidents are pretty busy, and presidents-elect are pretty busy. So he's trying to form a government, and I would expect that that's what he'll do in the future. As regards to my future, I serve at the President's pleasure. An American ambassador is somewhat unique in that they are the personal representative of the president. It has been an honor for me to serve as President Bush's personal representative here. I have been doing that either here or in Australia for eight years now, and I feel that I have done my duty, and I'm appreciative of the opportunity, but I'm anxious to get back home. So I would expect that when the President's term ends on January 20, that my term as ambassador will end at the same time.

QUESTION: Thank you Ambassador for this opportunity. My name is Wada; I'm with Japan's Mainichi Newspaper. Let me ask you about the election. You said that America's conscience spoke yesterday, and I tend to agree with you. But there are people who say that maybe there was a louder voice that swayed the voters when they went to the polls - that voice of concern about the economic situation in the United States. And some people blame the situation on the policies of your boss's administration. How would you respond to that kind of opinion? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I think that that is testimony to what I just said. I think the issues that the campaign turned on were not issues of race or gender. They were economic issues, they were political issues, and that's what democracy is all about. A lot of people, I would suspect, have a different view of President Bush than I do, but that's what democracy is all about. And last night the American people went to the polls in record numbers, and they chose a different party and a different direction. And I think that that is a celebration of the ideal of democracy and an indication of how it works when people argue about things and debate things in the political marketplace and then go and decide. I think everybody can take comfort in what results. And it doesn't matter that everybody may not have agreed. But the fact that they did it, and on January 20 power will shift from one party to another, and it will not be as a result of tanks being in the street or because troops have to be deployed to make it happen. It will be because the American people exercise their right to change governments. And I think that's a pretty remarkable and a pretty wonderful thing. So I think that the events of yesterday should be encouraging to everybody regardless of their political affiliation, because it reinforced what America's all about.

QUESTION: Tannai from Asahi Newspapers. On the 15th of this month in Washington, there'll be the financial summit, G20. And at that place, leaders from around the world will discuss to overcome this global financial crisis. And as the number-one and two economies of the world, is there any plan between the two countries to collaborate and maybe make a joint proposal at the time of the summit?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I'm not aware of anything we're talking about doing and presenting in a joint way right now, but our two governments are talking to each other and will continue to talk to each other leading up to that meeting. It would be an important meeting. It will be a chance for the 20 leading economies of the world to get together. And I think, obviously, that the largest economy in the world and the second largest economy in the world can be quite helpful in coordinating and getting cooperation from others to act together. There's no question that we are in the midst of a very, very serious financial crisis. I think that that crisis seems to be easing in some regards - the panic seems to be receding. But nevertheless, everybody recognizes that this is a difficult time. The more that these 20 largest economies can act together, the more that they can act in concert, I think the better chance we have of avoiding a long-term downturn as a result of this crisis. So I think we in the United States and for the United States are very interested in what Japan has to say, because of the bubble experience that you've had, how you reacted to it, and we have much to learn from that. And hopefully together we can move forward in a positive way, not only for our two economies but for the rest of the world economy as well.

QUESTION: My name is Yonamine from Ryukyu Shimpo. Early on, going back to the issue of realignment of U.S. forces, you've indicated that the current status would be maintained, that there would be no major change with the Obama administration. Yesterday Mr. Keating from PACOM indicated that there would be an estimate of greater cost for transferring to Guam, and for that reason there would be a delay in relocation to 2015. And so I understand that these two issues of Futenma as well as Guam relocation are considered to be a package or are considered to work together. And therefore is there a possibility of Futenma relocation being delayed to 2015 as well?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I'm not aware of the PACOM comments that you're talking about, but I think that both our governments recognize that the sooner we can get the facilities done in Guam, the sooner we will be able to reduce the number of Marines that are stationed on Okinawa. Now this action has been taken and this agreement has been made because of the request that Prime Minister Koizumi made to President Bush early in President Bush's first term, and that was to try to find a way to reduce the number of Marines or the number of military that were stationed in Okinawa without reducing the capacity of the American military to react to contingencies in this particular theater. And that was the genesis of this long negotiation that occurred and that was finally realized. It's important to remember that it is a package and that it is all interconnected. We will be happy to move those Marines out of Okinawa to Guam as soon as those facilities can be ready, but until that happens, they can't move, because that would reduce our capacity in this theater to react to various contingencies. And I don't think either government wants to do that. So hopefully, we can get this agreement implemented, and we can move as fast as possible to get it implemented, and that will ultimately, I think, result in a better facility and a cheaper facility than if it's postponed on down the road. And I'm not aware of any cost overruns or whatnot that would delay the building of these facilities or the implementation of the agreement that we've made. So I don't think that either one of us would be well served by the notion of putting this off for a longer period of time.

QUESTION: Hello. Mr. Ambassador, my name is Joel Legendre from RTL Broadcasting from France. I don't know if you are aware of this article signed by Mr. Obama in the edition of Foreign Affairs in July/August 2007. If you'd allow me to quote one or two sentences, I'd like to have your opinion when you say that no major change in the situation. "We work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and help confront transnational threats." What do you understand by these words, Mr. Ambassador, in the event that there will be a change of policy regarding agreements existing today?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Again, I don't want to try to speak for the next administration, but I don't think that it is in conflict. That article would talk about the need for multilateral approaches in Asia. I think we have tried to encourage that sort of thing. The very six-party talks themselves are a different way to approach problems than we've had in the past. In Asia, we have seen American foreign policy that is somewhat different than what it is in Europe. In Europe, it has tended more toward a collective approach with institutions like NATO and whatnot. In Asia, you have seen more of a bilateral approach that is based on bilateral alliances. I think what we have advocated - this administration, and I think the next administration would follow the same line - is that it is a good thing for multilateral relationships to exist, and is a good thing for our friends and allies to talk to one another as they talk to us.

As the former ambassador to Australia, when I came here to Japan I said that the United States had a unique relationship with Australia, and the United States has a unique relationship with Japan. And I saw no reason why Japan and Australia could not have the same kind of unique relationship with each other that they have with us. And part of what we've done as a consequence of that is this trilateral strategic dialogue that we've had with Australia, Japan, and United States sitting down together and talking about problems. I think the fact that we brought the six parties together was a good thing in the sense that it gave a collective approach to a problem, and I would suspect that any administration, whether it would have been Senator McCain or President-elect Obama's, would have wanted to pursue that kind of multilateral approach in Asia because I think that it would be helpful to all of us and I don't really think that that is a big conflict with what we've been doing in the past.

QUESTION: My name is Andrew Monahan from Dow Jones newswires. The new President Obama will be coming in in a period when most analysts agree that a strong yen will continue or will have strengthened further. I know you can't speculate on what the Obama administration's position will be on the yen vis-à-vis the dollar, but I was wondering if you could tell us what the Bush administration's position would be for the remainder of its time in office.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Jack Snow, who was the Secretary of the Treasury when I was going through the confirmation process to come here - I went over and visited with him and he said, "Please, if someone asks you about the value of the yen or the dollar, would you just please answer that the United States believes in a strong dollar and check with Jack Snow for details." I'm going to punt on that one. I think because of the nature and the sensitivity of currency valuations particularly right now, I think the United States Treasury ought to really be the position that comments in any kind of detail other than to say that we continue to believe in a strong dollar and I think that would be the position that any American administration would take.

QUESTION: Tanaka from NHK. Obama is going to launch his transition team, and as the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, are you going to contribute to the transition team, and you, Ambassador, in person what kind of role will you be playing and will the Embassy be playing?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: It's a very good question. Our government, because we have a fixed transition period, which is somewhat different than a parliamentary government, for instance, transition is a big part of what one administration does for the other. This process actually started last summer, and so we began preparing papers as to what would be the issues that any administration would face. We will accelerate that now, and those contributions will be put into a big package that will be given to the new administration and the transition team, and I think people are already going over some of the stuff that's been prepared. There'll be more, and we will continue to try to answer any questions that might come up by the transition group. We want this to be a seamless transition, and the President said yesterday that he was committed to seeing that a seamless transition occurred.

This is important, and this is not something that partisanship should weigh in on or anything else. I think you saw last night in Senator McCain's statement, a very gracious statement, but a sincere belief that the election is over now and we have to do what we can to present America's position in the world and at home in the best light possible and bring people together. I think the healing process of the political part of it started last night, and I think that just the nuts and bolts of the issues that we face together will be dealt with as time goes on. I think that we are prepared at this Embassy, and I know at every embassy around the world, to be as helpful as we possibly can to any questions that might arise and to provide as much information as we possibly can to the new administration.

QUESTION: Given the importance of the U.S.-Japan relations and also in the interest of the seamless transition that you mentioned, do you believe that Prime Minister Aso should meet with President-elect Obama when he goes to Washington for the G-20 summit?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Traditionally that is something that presidents-elect don't like to do. And it's a pretty simple reason: They don't have the staff, they don't have the preparation to meet with a head of state that is necessary. And of course the president-elect will make that decision, but I think that the American tradition is that we only have one president at a time. And that president will remain president until January the 20th at noon, and then the new president will take over. And presidents-elect, whether they have been Republicans or Democrats in the past, have been very reluctant to try to jump the gun on that, particularly when it comes to talking to foreign heads of government. We don't want there to be any confusion. And we don't want there to be any confusion for a number of reasons. You've got the economic crisis which is going on, but you also have security considerations. The alliance commitments that the United States has around the world - everyone has to know who the president is at the time and I think that traditionally is the reason presidents-elect have been very reticent to get involved with foreign heads of government before they become president.

Thank you.