Thu, Jan 25, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Bush calls for early summit with Mori

REUTERS , TOKYO

New US President George W. Bush telephoned Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori yesterday to tell the leader of his most important Asian ally that he wanted to meet soon.

The two leaders agreed to hold a summit "at an early date," a Japanese official said.

Bush called Mori early yesterday and stressed the importance of Japan as a key US ally in Asia at a time when the president was crafting his policy toward communist countries in the region, such as China and North Korea, the official said.

"You are one of the leaders I call first. This is a symbol of the close relationship between the US and Japan," the official quoted Bush as telling Mori.

The timing has yet to be fixed, but Japanese officials said Mori was expected to visit the US for talks with Bush as early as February or March.

While Bush stressed the importance of the US alliance with Japan during his election campaign, many Japanese officials believe he will adopt a tougher line than his predecessor, pressing Tokyo to play a greater military role in the region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono is to visit Washington this week and hold talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

During his visit, Kono will propose Japan and the US set up a joint panel on security policy, Kyodo news agency quoted a Japanese diplomatic source in Washington as saying.

Japan welcomed Bush's victory in the US presidential election and voiced hope that his Republican administration would give Japan a more prominent place on the diplomatic agenda of its most powerful ally. Japan and the US have boosted their military alliance in recent years, a move that has unnerved China.

New defense guidelines drawn up by the two countries in 1999 authorize Japan to provide logistical support to the US military in the event of an emergency in the region.

Some neighboring countries, including China, have repeatedly opposed the guidelines, saying they are intended to protect Taiwan.

About 48,000 US military personnel are stationed in Japan, of which about 26,000 are based on the island of Okinawa and constitute a source of strain between the allies amid calls from the local population for them to go.

Tokyo has so far refrained from showing support for the Bush administration's controversial national missile defense (NMD) proposal, fearing criticism from China and setbacks to a tentative warming in relations with North Korea.

But Japan is studying with Washington a theater missile defense system, a variant of the NMD, aimed at shielding US troops in Asia.

Beijing has repeatedly accused Tokyo and Washington of exaggerating the North Korean threat as an excuse to project their dual military strength in the region, throw a protective arm around Taiwan and contain China's rise as a world power.

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