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Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Tuesday telephoned U.S. President Bill Clinton to convey his decision to decline an invitation by the president to visit the United States.

Hashimoto was to visit the U.S. later this month and have a tete-a-tete with Clinton on July 22.

During the brief phone conversation, Hashimoto said he has announced he will step down on July 30 to take the blame for the Liberal Democratic Party’s setback in Sunday’s Upper House elections.

Voicing appreciation for Clinton’s friendship and stressing the importance of bilateral relations, Hashimoto asked the president to continue talks with Japan in a variety of fields. Clinton replied that, under the present circumstances, he “understands” the two decisions made by Hashimoto — one to resign as prime minister and the other to cancel the U.S. trip, according to officials.

Clinton said Hashimoto is an important partner and the two leaders have succeeded in achieving a great deal of progress in strengthening bilateral relations, the officials said. The president also said he respects Hashimoto’s leadership, which was impressively displayed at the Third Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, hosted by Japan and held in Kyoto last December.

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