Beef dispute tops Koizumi-Bush agenda


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush agreed Tuesday on the importance of resolving the bilateral beef trade dispute as soon as possible, a step that may prompt Japan to lift its ban on U.S. beef, a Japanese official said.

Koizumi and Bush also agreed that the U.S. military will strive to maintain its deterrent power and reduce the burden shouldered by Okinawa and other communities hosting U.S. bases in the course of realigning U.S. forces in Japan, the official told reporters in a briefing.

During talks held on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly session in New York, the two leaders noted that there has been substantial progress on the beef trade issue but acknowledged the need for further efforts toward an early resolution of the matter.

Koizumi and Bush agreed that the two countries will hold talks swiftly to pave the way for Japan to reopen its market to U.S. beef, he said.

Japan banned beef imports from the United States after the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease last December, and insisted that U.S. beef cattle be tested for the disease in the same way that slaughtered cows are tested in Japan.

The two countries initially planned to resolve the beef issue by this summer but have yet to strike a deal, due mainly to differences over the scope of beef subject to testing for mad cow disease.

Bush has been under pressure from the U.S. beef industry ahead of the Nov. 2 presidential election. Japan was the biggest buyer of U.S. beef before it imposed the import ban.

At their 40-minute discussion, Koizumi asked Bush to promote the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan with an eye to the maintenance of the U.S. military capability and a reduction in the burden of Okinawa and other local communities, the official said.

In particular, people in Okinawa are growing more concerned about the U.S. military presence following the Aug. 13 crash of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter on a university campus adjacent to the U.S. Futenma Air Station in the central Okinawa city of Ginowan, Koizumi was quoted as saying.

Bush said the U.S. will try to achieve a more efficient deterrence capability and make efforts to reduce the burden on communities hosting U.S. bases. The U.S. plans to realign its forces worldwide, including in Japan, as part of efforts to make the U.S. military better able to cope with new threats.