• The Associated Press

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The new U.S. ambassador to Japan arrived Friday in Tokyo, saying he was delighted to be here and stressing the importance of the U.S. security alliance with Japan.

Thomas Schieffer, 58, assumed the post following the departure of Howard Baker in February.

Arriving at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture with his wife, Susanne, Schieffer said that before he left Washington, he received a phone call from President George W. Bush to remind him that Japan’s friendship is vital.

“Japan is the linchpin of our whole security in the Pacific,” Schieffer said in a prepared statement. “He (Bush) asked me to convey to you, the people of Japan and to Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi his deep appreciation for your friendship and understanding.

“Our languages and our cultures are very different but our friendship is very real,” and both countries embrace democracy, he said.

Schieffer was expected to pay a visit to top government officials soon to receive formal recognition by Tokyo.

The former U.S. ambassador to Australia steps into his job as Washington presses Tokyo to end a 15-month import ban on U.S. beef and tries to resolve the international standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. His appointment also comes as Washington considers changes to U.S. forces stationed in Japan.

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