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WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. ambassador-nominee to Tokyo urged Japan on Tuesday to quickly lift its 15-month-old import ban on U.S. beef to prevent it from damaging overall bilateral ties, while pledging to advance Washington’s security alliance and economic ties.

Thomas Schieffer addressed growing concerns in Congress over Japan’s prolonged ban in his Senate confirmation hearing, saying, “As a number of you have already pointed out to me, the current controversy . . . must be resolved as soon as possible so that U.S. beef exports can be resumed to Japan.”

Political pressure is mounting in Congress, with many lawmakers from farm states calling for retaliatory economic sanctions.

“We must ensure that science and not politics makes the final decision. On the economic front, we must continue to manage our relationship in such a way that occasional problems do not cause wider damage to our overall relationship,” Schieffer told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which later approved his nomination. Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef before it slapped on the ban in December 2003, after the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease.

Pointing to the fact that Japan and the United States constitute about 40 percent of the world economy, the ambassador-nominee said, “We must show leadership, creativity and common sense in integrating the work we do together to bring greater prosperity and stability to our domestic and world markets.”

Schieffer, a longtime Texan friend of President George W. Bush and former joint owner with Bush of the Texas Rangers, also mentioned the growing number of exchanges with Japan, saying, “We do business, exchange scientists, artists, students and even baseball players as never before.”

With the committee’s approval, the nomination must now be confirmed by the full Senate. If that happens, Schieffer, currently ambassador to Australia, will take over the post from Howard Baker, who left last month.

Born in 1947 in Fort Worth, Texas, Schieffer was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1972 and served three terms.

He then worked as a lawyer in Texas from 1979, focusing on business transactions related to investments, oil and gas.

His elder brother, Bob Schieffer, is chief Washington correspondent for CBS News and interim anchor of CBS Evening News.

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