Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, already under fire for making controversial remarks about the U.S. missile defense plan, has insinuated that Japan needs to depart from its decades-old security alliance with the United States, government sources said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka raises her hand to speak at the Upper House Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee as Gen Nakanishi, chief of the Defense Agency, sifts through documents.

The allegation came in the latest round of mudslinging between Foreign Ministry bureaucrats and Tanaka, who accuses ministry officials of waging a smear campaign by leaking to the media her comments with foreign diplomats.

Sources said that on May 25 in Beijing, Tanaka told Joschka Fischer, German vice chancellor and foreign minister, that the alliance was “an easy way” for Japan to enjoy security under the U.S. nuclear umbrella after World War II.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of a foreign ministerial conference of the Asia-Europe Meeting.

According to the sources, while speaking to Fischer about the Japan-U.S. security arrangement, which has been in effect since 1952, Tanaka said, “It is necessary for Japan to become more independent in light of its economic power, but reactionary political mentality prevents a change.

“I know that the U.S. presence in Japan is important. I am not against the U.S. and I like the country, but believe that Japan-U.S. relations are at a turning point, and we need to consider the issue again so that we can switch the course.”

The content of this conversation came to light a day after reports surfaced that Tanaka was critical of a U.S. plan to build a “shield” that theoretically would protect it and its allies from missiles.

While the sources indicated her remarks went against the government’s stance on the issue — that it “understands” the U.S. shield plan — Tanaka later argued that she has never deviated from “understanding” the concept.

Tanaka fought back against the latest leak at a morning news conference.

“What about the bureaucrats’ obligation to keep secrets?” she asked. “Deliberate leaks hurt national interests. Bureaucrats are leaking information beyond the bounds of their duties.

“It should not happen in a civilized country.”

At a session of the House of Councilors Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee later in the day, Tanaka said that those leaking classified information regarding her talks with foreign counterparts should identify themselves.

“(Foreign Ministry) officials from high ranks to low ranks should show their faces and give their names if they have something they want to tell the world,” Tanaka told the committee.

But the ministry’s press secretary, Norio Hattori, told a separate news conference he was “confident that confidentiality is being well kept.”

“There is no evidence that the (leaked) information came from the Japanese side, at least not from the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

Tanaka’s troubles with her own ministry date back to her first days in office when she ordered a freeze on personnel transfers — an order that was at first ignored.

With regard to the U.S. plan to build a missile defense shield and according to the sources, Tanaka echoed Fischer’s concern that it could lead to a possible arms race.

“It is good to utilize technology for space and scientific development,” the sources quoted Tanaka as saying, “but I am apprehensive about its use for missile defense.”

She told Fischer that European countries should caution U.S. President George W. Bush over the missile issue, as he is approaching it differently from his predecessor, Bill Clinton, the sources said. The Clinton administration shelved a decision on whether to budget for the theoretical missile shield.

Tanaka also reportedly voiced concerns about Washington’s missile defense policy during separate meetings with Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The mudslinging has reportedly dashed Tanaka’s plans to visit the U.S. later this month.

U.S. unfazed

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States will continue talks with Japan despite reported comments by Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka critical of U.S. President George W. Bush’s missile defense plans, the State Department said Monday.

“Reports that somebody said something to somebody else are not halfway as important as the fact that we have ongoing and continuous consultations with our friends and allies, including the Japanese,” spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.

Meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer last month in Tokyo, Tanaka reportedly expressed skepticism about Bush’s missile defense plans and said Bush may be influenced by his support groups, such as the petroleum industry in his home state of Texas.

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