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WASHINGTON — The U.S. has expressed strong concern over the confusion surrounding reports that Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka has raised doubts about missile defense and the Japan-U.S. alliance, the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday.

“The U.S. wonders what is unfolding in Japan,” Shunji Yanai told reporters. He said the U.S. government is contacting those countries whose foreign ministers have met recently with Tanaka to verify her statements.

Tanaka has hit the headlines in Japan during the past week over reports that she questioned the missile defense plans of U.S. President George W. Bush in separate meetings with her Australian, Italian and German counterparts.

During talks last month with Joschka Fischer, Germany’s vice chancellor and foreign minister, Tanaka also reportedly said Japan needs to reconsider its decades-old security alliance with the U.S.

Tanaka claimed her remarks on the missile defense issue were reported incorrectly, and she has yet to deny or confirm her reported comment on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

She has, in turn, criticized Foreign Ministry bureaucrats for “hurting national interests” by failing in their duty to “keep secrets.”

Reflecting on the confusion of the past month, Yanai said, “I am not sure why the situation has gotten so much worse. But this situation is definitely not satisfactory” for Japanese diplomacy.

“I have been with the Foreign Ministry for 40 years and I have never seen a situation more extraordinary than this,” he added.

Yanai urged Tanaka to strive to intensify her communications with senior Foreign Ministry officials and criticized her for shutting them out of her office.

He said many ministry officials, both at home and abroad, are “in no mood for work” because they have been distracted by the controversy.

“What I want Tanaka to do is listen more to advice from bureaucrats, although there could be differences of opinion,” he said.

Yanai also criticized her for failing to meet with Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, when he visited Tokyo in May to brief Japan on Bush’s missile defense policy.

“I was one of those who worked in order to realize a meeting between Tanaka and Armitage,” he said. “And I told the U.S. side before the trip to Tokyo that there was a good prospect of Tanaka meeting with Armitage. So, it was very regrettable.”

Publicly, U.S. officials are playing down the issue.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher questioned the seriousness of the situation.

“I don’t think I want to try to comment on every remark that’s reported to have been said in meetings with other people,” he told a news briefing Tuesday. “We have an excellent relationship with Japan that’s based on close consultations between two allies. . . . I’m sure we’ll continue to do that with Japan.”

Concern is growing among Japanese officials that the controversy could affect relations with the U.S., especially with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi preparing for his first summit with Bush on June 30.

Some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers have even reportedly suggested that Tanaka be fired.

Koizumi has said he is not worried. Speaking to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, he said Tanaka would “gradually get used to her job,” and that it would take time.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda voiced concern, however, over the widening rift between Tanaka and Foreign Ministry bureaucrats.

“If there’s criticism (against Tanaka) among ministry officials, it is regrettable in terms of their mutual trust,” Fukuda told a regular news conference.

He also denied speculation that the government may be planning to replace Tanaka some time soon.

“I have never heard of such a story myself,” Fukuda said. “It is not a matter that should be discussed at the moment.”

Meanwhile, four opposition parties demanded Wednesday that official records of Tanaka’s talks with her foreign counterparts be submitted to the Lower House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The opposition camp called for documents featuring the contents of Tanaka’s telephone conversation May 7 with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, her meetings May 25 with her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, and a May 28 meeting with her Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer.

The ruling bloc said it will consult with Tanaka about the request.

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