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Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka has suggested that special interest groups supporting U.S. President George W. Bush may be behind U.S. missile defense plans, Japanese government sources said Saturday.

The plans “may be influenced by support groups (for Bush) such as the petroleum industry in his constituency of Texas,” Tanaka was quoted as saying during her talks with her Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, on Monday.

Tanaka has allegedly made a series of remarks criticizing the U.S. plan despite the official position stated by her to a parliamentary panel that Tokyo “understands” the U.S. position.

During the meeting with Downer, Tanaka was also quoted as saying that she personally has “doubts” about the plan, the sources said. She was also quoted as saying it could provoke China.

Downer reportedly voiced support for the United States and was quoted as saying the plan would benefit U.S. allies, according to the sources.

Analysts fear Tanaka’s remarks — made during an official meeting — could complicate bilateral relations with Washington ahead of a U.S.-Japan summit scheduled for later this month.

There are also fears her planned talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell this month may be adversely affected.

On May 25, while participating in an Asia-Europe Meeting of foreign ministers in Beijing, Tanaka was quoted as voicing concern about the missile plan to her Italian counterpart, Lamberto Dini, during a luncheon.

She also reportedly expressed concern to Joschka Fischer, German vice chancellor and foreign minister, in a separate meeting the same day. But Tanaka on Friday morning denied she had made the comments.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman has said he cannot disclose details of the foreign ministerial talks but added he does not believe the minister’s position would contradict that of the government.

Cooperation continues

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States said Friday it will continue talks with Japan about defense and strategic issues despite reported criticism by the Japanese foreign minister of President George W. Bush’s missile defense plan.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he is aware of a report that Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka voiced concern about Bush’s missile defense plans during recent talks with a number of her foreign counterparts. Boucher told a news briefing that there were reports of “unconfirmed private remarks” and that “there’s nothing very solid” that he could respond to or try to comment on.

“I would say that we have been in close consultations with the Japanese government about missile defense and strategic stability issues. . . . We’ll continue talking to the Japanese about these issues,” he said.

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