Better-than-expected performances by U.S. Democrats in midterm elections are likely to boost President Bill Clinton’s confidence in pursuing his foreign policy prerogatives but have little impact on Japan-U.S. relations.

Although the Republicans retained control of the Senate and House, the president’s party did fairly well in the elections, which will help Clinton promote his policies, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Satoshi Morimoto, chief researcher on security issues at the Nomura Research Institute, said that Congress will have to tone down its confrontation with Clinton on such issues as North Korea. Clinton is currently trying to gain congressional approval of a project to build two light-water nuclear reactors for North Korea.

But Republicans have attached conditions — such as a satisfactory resolution to suspicions of North Korea’s construction of underground nuclear facilities — to bills authorizing money for reactors. The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization has been constructing the light-water reactors in exchange for Pyongyang freezing its nuclear weapons program.

A senior ministry official said that the North Korean issue is a top concern for both Japan and the United States and that he will closely watch how Congress deals with Clinton on the matter and on other foreign policy issues now that the elections have given the Democrats a shot in the arm. Before the elections, Clinton demonstrated global leadership by mediating a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, the official noted.

And he is now in a more favorable position to take stronger stands on other issues of concern, such as Iraq’s confrontation with the United Nations over inspections of the country’s weapons, the official said. The top Japan-U.S. issue, security relations, was not a focus in the elections as the ball remains in Japan’s court; the Diet still needs to enact a package of bills to implement new Japan-U.S. defense guidelines announced last September.

Had the Democrats won a majority in the House, it would have paved the way for the Clinton administration to forge ahead with such initiatives as fast-track legislation, he said. The legislation would allow the government to skip Congressional approval for administrative trade agreements with foreign countries and is expected to facilitate free-trade agreements.

Iwao Nakatani, a professor at the Faculty of Commerce at Hitotsubashi University and vice-chairman of the Economic Strategy Council, an advisory body of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, shares the same sense of anxiety. “The Japan-U.S. relationship will be taking a critical turn toward the next year,” said Nakatani. “By far, the U.S. economy has been full of confidence, therefore a certain degree of trade deficit with Japan mattered little. “Hit hard by financial turmoil in Russia and in Central and South America, as well as a faltering hedge fund, however, the U.S. economy will surely decelerate toward the next year,” Nakatani predicted.

If it does, the U.S. might then vent its pent-up frustrations over the ever-increasing trade deficit, he added.

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