• Kyodo

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U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday stressed his commitment to maintaining close ties with Japan, even using a Japanese word to refer to Howard Baker during his swearing-in ceremony as the new U.S. ambassador to Japan.

In front of Baker and his five predecessors, Bush said, “The Japanese press calls these figures ‘Omono’ — the big guys.”

The former ambassadors included Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Thomas Foley and Michael Armacost.

“Today we call upon one of America’s most valued statesmen to help be the keeper of one of America’s most valued friendships,” Bush said in a speech delivered before Baker was sworn in.

“Howard Baker has held many titles during the course of his long and distinguished career,” he said. “In a few moments he’ll add ambassador to that list. And once again, America is very grateful.”

Baker, a former Republican Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff, was sworn in during a ceremony attended by about 200 dignitaries.

Baker and his wife, Nancy, stood next to the president on the podium in a White House room before attendants that included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Shunji Yanai, Japan’s ambassador to the United States.

“We send the very best people to Japan because the United States has no more important a partner in the world than Japan,” Bush said.

Following Bush’s speech, Secretary of State Colin Powell swore in Baker.

Baker also stressed the importance of the Japanese-U.S. relationship in his speech.

“It is indeed the most important bilateral relationship, at least in my life and in my career, and it will continue to be,” he said.

In March, Bush nominated Baker, 75, as successor to Foley. Baker is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo early next month, after Bush meets Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Saturday. at the presidential retreat of Camp David, Md.

Baker served as Senate minority leader from 1977 to 1981 and Senate majority leader between 1981 and 1985 after the Republican victory in the 1980 election.

He was White House chief of staff from February 1987 to June 1988 under President Ronald Reagan.

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