• Kyodo

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U.S. President George W. Bush will seek a key Japanese role in Iraqi reconstruction and discuss strategy for the next six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions when he meets Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next week, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, also said the two leaders will discuss economic issues, including exchange rates, when Bush visits Japan on Oct. 17 and 18.

While denying the United States is pressing Japan to make huge contributions toward Iraq’s reconstruction and send its troops to Iraq quickly, the official said Bush hopes Japan will make a voluntary decision based on its national interests.

“The president’s view, I know, is that for us, Japan is not just some ATM machine,” the official said. “But for strategic reasons, we, the United States and this administration, want Japan playing a central role in the key issues that we face.”

What Bush wants to see is that “Japan is a key player” in helping Iraq rebuild, he said.

The official said Bush will probably not ask Koizumi for a specific contribution amount ahead of the Oct. 23-24 meeting in Madrid of donor countries on Iraqi reconstruction assistance.

In the case of the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. had a specific number for Japan, but the situation is different now, he said.

The Japanese government is reportedly considering allocating up to $5 billion over the next four years for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The official also said Bush and Koizumi will talk about how the two countries should “approach the next round of six-party talks,” which also involve the two Koreas, China and Russia.

Their discussions are expected to cover North Korean demands for a nonaggression treaty with the U.S. and ways of verifying that Pyongyang is dismantling its nuclear arms program, the official said.

North Korea recently called for excluding Japan from future multilateral talks, but the U.S. official described the demand as part of an attempt to “delay the talks and to increase the price that they get paid.”

On the economic front, the U.S. official said Bush will discuss with Koizumi the foreign-exchange rate issue in addition to Japan’s efforts to fight deflation and promote deregulation and the disposal of bad loans.

“I don’t know exactly what the president will say, but the only thing that I would say is that the exchange-rate issues with both Japan and China right now are issues that have to be discussed,” he said.

Bush is making job creation a priority to help secure a victory in next year’s presidential election, but the U.S. labor market remains sluggish due mainly to job losses in the manufacturing sector.

U.S. manufacturers have insisted Japan and China are trying to keep their currencies artificially weak against the dollar to maintain their export competitiveness.

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