Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka heads for Washington today with the U.S. missile defense plan and issues related to the U.S. military presence in Okinawa topping the agenda for talks to be held on Monday.
Tanaka’s first face-to-face talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell were initially seen as difficult to arrange because of tight schedules on both sides. The meeting also faced opposition from within the Diet over Tanaka’s reported negative remarks regarding the missile defense plan.
The Cabinet, however, finally gave approval for her visit on Friday morning.
Tanaka is scheduled to have an hourlong meeting with Powell on Monday morning, during which Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may take part, Foreign Ministry officials said.
Prior to meeting with Powell, Tanaka will have talks with Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser to President George W. Bush. Meetings with other officials are still under consideration, but prospects are slim with Tanaka due to leave Washington early Monday afternoon, officials said.
From Saturday to Sunday, Tanaka plans to visit the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, go to a high school she attended in Philadelphia and visit a park in the city where a cherry tree has been planted to commemorate her appointment as foreign minister.
Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Tanaka said discussions over missile defense and Okinawa issues are “the two most important areas” she will bring up in her talks with Powell.
On missile defense, which she reportedly voiced concerns over during talks with Italian, Australian and German counterparts, Tanaka reiterated her denial of the remarks, but refused to disclose details of what was said. She claimed it is against diplomatic protocol to reveal detailed contents of the talks.
She said she will explain her stance on missile defense if the U.S. asks about the reported remarks, but that she would rather have “more constructive” talks by directly asking Powell about the technological feasibility, costs and prospects for the missile defense plan.
“I would rather not be making excuses about my remarks, but talk about the pragmatic issues of diplomacy,” Tanaka said.
Regarding the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Tanaka said she wants to discuss Okinawa’s burden in hosting the U.S. bases and urge Powell to take concrete steps on the issue.
Tanaka has indicated at a Diet session that she will propose relocating some of the U.S. Marine Corps’ drills from Okinawa to Guam and other nearby places, and that she will also take up local residents’ request of a 15-year time limit on the U.S. military use of a new airport to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa.
“I’m going to ask Secretary Powell for the United States to do what it can do,” the foreign minister said.
She is also expected to discuss bilateral economic issues and international issues, such as policies toward North Korea and the Kyoto climate change treaty.
“I want to bring up many issues that I have been asked by the Diet and see how much of an answer I can get (from Powell),” Tanaka said. “I want to pursue independent diplomacy,” she said.
Tanaka is seen as keen on communicating the results of her talks directly to the media by holding a news conference following her meeting with Powell.
“I want to talk to you directly at a news conference so that no mistakes occur,” she told reporters in the morning, implying that errors could creep into media reports if coverage of the meeting is based solely on briefings by bureaucrats.
Tanaka has claimed that bureaucrats leaked and manipulated the details of her talks over the missile defense plan with foreign counterparts, saying either interpreters or note takers made mistakes, or that senior officials changed the contents.
Apparently as another measure to guard against such tampering by bureaucrats, Tanaka has instructed the ministry to bring two interpreters, one of whom will be invited from a private company. Usually, ministry officials provide interpretation for ministerial talks.
Two or more note takers will also be present in the meeting, a ministry official said. “We are making the arrangements on the instruction from the minister,” an official said without elaborating.
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