A tug of war continued Wednesday over whether the nation’s top diplomats would be removed, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda warning Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka that a prolonged stalemate could damage national interests.

The focal point is the resignation offered by Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai. While Tanaka wants to retain him in that post, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reportedly ordered her Tuesday to approve the resignation, together with those of three other top-ranking diplomats.

Now that Koizumi has intervened, the personnel decision is expected to be finalized by the Cabinet by Aug. 10.

During a regular news conference Wednesday morning, Fukuda said Tanaka should swiftly authorize the resignations.

“There’s no time to be lost in diplomacy,” Fukuda told reporters. “We hope (Tanaka) will make the personnel decision as soon as possible.”

The top Cabinet spokesman said he is gravely worried about the situation at the Foreign Ministry, saying confusion over the personnel situation could “severely damage our national interests.”

Fukuda said Koizumi issued the personnel instructions out of concern that the ministry would be unable to reform itself on its own in the wake of a series of corruption scandals involving several senior diplomats.

But on Wednesday, a top Foreign Ministry official said that Tanaka was still keen on retaining Yanai at his current post, citing concerns including the new administrations in both Tokyo and Washington. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker only recently arrived in Japan, the official added.

Tanaka “still wants more time” to consider personnel changes and hopes to meet again with Koizumi to discuss the issue, the official said.

According to government sources, Koizumi told Tanaka on Tuesday to replace the four most recent vice foreign ministers, including Yanai, to have them take the blame for the scandals.

Officially, Koizumi and Tanaka did not disclose details of what they discussed during brief one-on-one talks at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence after Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting.

But the instructions reportedly given by Koizumi run counter to Tanaka’s earlier plan to retain Yanai, who tendered his resignation last week to take responsibility for the scandal involving Makoto Mizutani, the consul general in Denver who was fired last Thursday, after being recalled, for allegedly embezzling $81,000 in public money.

According to the sources, Koizumi told Tanaka to strip current Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima, Yanai and their two predecessors, Ambassador to Britain Sadayuki Hayashi and Japan International Cooperation Agency head Kunihiko Saito, of their posts.

Kawashima, who also indicated his readiness to resign when the ministry fired Mizutani last week, has been at odds with Tanaka over the ministry’s operations ever since she became foreign minister in late April.

Tanaka reportedly wants to appoint Deputy Foreign Minister Ryozo Kato as Kawashima’s successor. But if Yanai is to resign as ambassador to the U.S., Kato will be the most likely candidate to assume that post, thereby derailing Tanaka’s personnel plans.

Also behind the personnel imbroglio is the reported emotional feud between Tanaka and Fukuda, two key members of Koizumi’s Cabinet, the sources said.

Tanaka has complained to people around her that Kawashima met frequently with Fukuda while she was away from Tokyo on diplomatic trips, charging that the two were conspiring against her and scheming for Yanai’s resignation, according to the sources.

If Kato is to become the new ambassador to the U.S., Deputy Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami, who is in charge of economic affairs, Ambassador to Singapore Toshiyuki Takano and Ambassador to France Kazuo Ogura are considered the likely candidates to replace Kawashima.

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