U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Thursday told Foreign Minister Yohei Kono that she will skip the Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting in Japan to focus on next week’s Middle East summit in the United States.

Albright telephoned Kono to inform him of her absence, explaining that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will attend the July 12-13 meeting in Miyazaki in her place, a Japanese official told reporters.

Kono expressed regret over the absence of Albright, who he said was expected to play an “important” role at the G8 meeting, the official said. However, he also conveyed his understanding of the importance of the Middle East peace process.

Albright thanked Kono for his understanding and assured him of her unchanged commitment to the G8 process, the official said.

Kono urged Albright to reschedule her visit to Japan as early as possible, and she agreed to do so to show her unabated “respect” for Japan, the official said.

In Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing that Albright will join President Bill Clinton in the summit meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Middle East summit begins July 11 at the Camp David presidential retreat.

“The secretary will be full-time at Camp David,” the spokesman said. “She’ll be actively engaged in the process throughout.”

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said the Middle East summit will not affect Clinton’s trip to Japan for the G8 summit, to be held July 21 to 23 in Okinawa.

The G8 comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the U.S.