Clinton set to arrive in time for G8 start


Despite delays, U.S. President Bill Clinton is expected to arrive today in time for the beginning of the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, and will bring to the table such issues as debt relief and bridging the digital divide, U.S. government sources said.

Clinton left Washington for Japan on Thursday and is expected to arrive in Okinawa this morning, in time for the first day of the G8 summit. He will begin the day with a visit to “Heiwa no Ishiji” (Cornerstone of Peace) Park, and is then scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the main sessions of the G8 summit begin.

On Thursday, White House and State Department officials in Washington told The Japan Times over the telephone that the president intended to stick to a previously agreed upon agenda that includes a wide range of multilateral issues with the G8 nations and bilateral meetings with Russia and Japan.

“Top priority for the U.S. at the G8 is to work to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing nations,” said David Stockwell, a White House official. “As for U.S.-Japan bilateral issues, the president welcomes the agreement for lowering NTT interconnection rates. He will also discuss with (Prime Minister Yoshiro) Mori the importance of a continued U.S. military presence in Japan.”

Lael Brainard, the White House deputy national economic adviser, said that during the G8 summit the U.S. will push to close the digital, educational and health divides between the developed and developing worlds. She added that Clinton would press the G8 for further debt-relief measures for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries.

“Debt relief is a top priority for the president. Nine countries have qualified for debt reductions of $16 billion,” Brainard said. “We were able to get bilateral debt reductions passed through Congress, and will push hard to get the multilateral portion funded.”

One of the biggest issues Clinton will emphasize is the importance of having a coordinated effort in dealing with AIDS and other diseases, the officials said. The U.S. itself is planning to offer sub-Saharan nations nearly $1 billion in annual loans, which will be used to purchase U.S. drugs and medical services, and may push for other G8 nations to adopt a similar plan.

On bilateral security issues, Clinton and Mori are expected to discuss the U.S. military presence in Okinawa and in particular relocation of the Marine’s Futenma Air Station. However, the officials said they foresaw no major announcements.

“Futenma is on the agenda. However, we’re not expecting a resolution and its unlikely there will be major announcements on other issues,” said Stockwell.

Joe Steinberg, deputy national security adviser to the president, told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday that the president will emphasize the importance of good neighborly relations with Okinawa and its role in promoting regional stability.

One of the more controversial issues that Clinton will discuss in separate meetings with both Putin and Mori is America’s proposed National Missile Defense system. Russia and China have voiced protests over the system and a recent test failure has raised doubts among U.S. defense experts about the system’s viability.

Steinberg, however, said Clinton will try to persuade the Russian president and the Japanese prime minister that the NMD is needed to deal with emerging threats.

As for G8 security issues, officials said Clinton will seek some sort of statement of support about the ongoing Middle East peace process. Other matters to be raised by Clinton at the G8 meetings are preventing conflict and combating terrorism. The U.S. will also seek to gain support for strengthening various U.N. conventions on terrorism, Steinberg said.