Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed her deepest regrets to Japan on Wednesday over the alleged Feb. 10 rape of a 14-year-old Okinawa girl by a U.S. Marine.
“I earlier had had a chance to express the regret to the prime minister on behalf of President (George W.) Bush, on behalf of myself and the people of the United States for the terrible incident that happened in Okinawa,” Rice said at a joint news conference held after she spoke with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. “We are concerned for the well-being of the young girl and her family.”
The incident was quickly followed by other criminal allegations involving U.S. servicemen in Okinawa that fueled anger and resentment over the heavy U.S. military presence there.
Japan and the U.S. have responded quickly by setting up a task force and announcing preventive measures as they try to contain the rising public resentment, which could impact the ongoing reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan.
Rice stressed that the United States will try to prevent such incidents from recurring, describing the efforts to reinforce military discipline being carried out by the U.S. Forces in Japan and the U.S. Embassy.
Shortly after arriving in Tokyo on Wednesday, Rice met with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and Komura. She is scheduled to leave Thursday.
Describing Okinawa as “extremely important” for the security of the Asia-Pacific region, Rice said it is important for the U.S. and Japan to go ahead with the U.S. forces reorganization.
Rice’s two-day visit to Japan followed a visit to South Korea and Beijing. She attended the Feb. 25 inauguration of new South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in Seoul and held talks with the Chinese government in Beijing on how to make progress in persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang has refused to carry out its obligation to make a “correct and complete” declaration of all its nuclear programs.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, was supposed to accompany Rice to Tokyo but was instead instructed to stay in Beijing to continue discussions with the Chinese to find ways of overcoming the deadlock.
“I believe that the progress that we have made thus far, particularly on the disablement, is worthy of our continued efforts to move this process forward,” Rice said, adding that this can take some time.
“My hopes for momentum, for progress come largely from the fact that everybody understands the importance of the denuclearization, everybody is committed to denuclearization (and) everybody understands that we all have obligations.”