Japan, U.S. fail to set U.N. talks

Bush administration said wary despite verbal support

Kyodo

Japan and the United States cannot agree on prospects for starting high working-level bilateral talks on United Nations reforms due to technical and political reasons on the U.S. side, sources said Sunday.

The U.S. has told Japan it is premature to begin substantial discussions on the matter at this stage, the sources said. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush agreed to launch the talks when they met in September on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

A U.S. administration official said Washington is maintaining a policy of waiting for and closely examining proposals by a reform advisory panel to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

After the panel issued its report last Tuesday, the U.S. government has been looking carefully at the details, and there is no schedule for holding the high-level talks with Japan, the official said.

Uncertainty remains over whether the two nations can agree to launch the talks soon because the examination of the report is likely to take time and major personnel changes are going on in the U.S. State Department in line with the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell before Bush begins his second term Jan. 20.

The Bush administration intends to begin working to help Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council only if it finds the panel’s proposals appropriate, according to the sources. This means Washington’s repeated verbal support for Japan may end up being mere lip service.

After the report was issued, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated that Japan is “the only country we’ve publicly endorsed” to become a permanent member of the Security Council.

But he maintained a cautious stance when repeatedly asked to comment on the U.N. report or whether Washington actually supports expanding the council.

“Our view is that we’ll take a look at it, we’ll study it carefully, we’ll talk to other members of the United Nations, and when we have something to say on it we’ll say it,” Boucher said.

Washington apparently intends to analyze the proposals thoroughly to check whether they would undermine its national interests.

On the other hand, Japanese officials have boasted of the agreement for launching the talks as a major achievement toward realizing Tokyo’s bid to become a permanent member because the United States has not taken an active stance regarding Germany, India and other countries also seeking to gain spots.

The two countries agreed shortly after the Bush-Koizumi meeting that the proposed talks will be represented by Tsuneo Nishida, deputy vice minister for foreign policy, from Japan, and Kim Holmes, assistant secretary of state in charge of international organization affairs, from the United States.

But it remains unclear whether Holmes will remain in the post after Powell leaves.

The U.N. report proposes two options for expanding the Security Council among other overtures to overhaul the world body. But it does not identify any prospective permanent members or holders of new renewable-term seats.

Both options involve increasing the current 15 seats — five permanent members and 10 nonpermanent members — to 24 and redistributing them in the four major regional areas of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas.

The five permanent members are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.