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In an unusual diplomatic move, Japan may ask the United States during an upcoming bilateral summit to return to UNESCO as soon as possible, government sources said Saturday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who took office in late April, and U.S. President George W. Bush, who was inaugurated in January, will hold their first meeting at Camp David, Md., on June 30.

The U.S. bolted from the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at the end of 1984 under the Republican administration of President Ronald Reagan, citing mismanagement and other problems. Britain followed suit in 1985 but later rejoined the organization.

The government is considering having Koizumi ask Bush to return to UNESCO as soon as possible, although no final decision has been made on the matter, the sources said.

Japan has adopted a policy of pursuing necessary reforms within the UNESCO framework rather than following the U.S. example. Although Japan has long advocated a U.S. return to the body, the issue has not been raised at previous bilateral summits.

“Many of the problems the U.S. cited when it bolted from UNESCO have already been resolved,” one government source said. “It is quite unnatural for a big power like the U.S. to remain outside such a very important international organization as UNESCO.

“The upcoming Japan-U.S. summit may be a good opportunity for Japan to demonstrate the importance it places on getting the U.S. back to UNESCO.”

The possible request is largely to support UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura’s efforts to reform the body. Matsuura, a former Japanese ambassador to France, was elected to the top UNESCO post in the autumn of 1999.

Japanese government officials also believe the time may be ripe for the request as the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed by an overwhelming majority a State Department budget authorization bill containing spending for UNESCO.

The bilateral security alliance and the state of the Japanese economy are expected to top the agenda at the first meeting between Koizumi and Bush.

The Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming, which was adopted at the end of 1997 in the Japanese city, is also expected to be discussed. The meeting will come three months after the Bush administration stunned the international community by announcing a decision to effectively withdraw from the protocol.

“By deciding to return to UNESCO, the Bush administration would be able to recover some of its international image and credibility damaged by its stance on the global warming issue,” a senior government official said, asking that he not be named.

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