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The United States refused to comment Monday on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to call a general election but stressed he is a “staunch ally.”

“What’s happening in Japan on the postal reform and on Prime Minister Koizumi’s parliamentary decisions are internal matters that we don’t have a comment on,” State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

But after being pressed to comment on whether Washington is concerned about losing a partner, Ereli said: “I don’t have any comment. Prime Minister Koizumi is a staunch ally and a good friend of the United States. I’ll leave it at that.”

Overnight in Tokyo, Koizumi dissolved the House of Representatives and called a general election for Sept. 11, after the postal privatization bills, the centerpiece of his reform drive, were rejected by the House of Councilors. More members than expected of his own Liberal Democratic Party voted against them.

Many U.S. experts believe the turmoil will affect bilateral ties, especially if Koizumi’s party loses the election, given the close cooperative relationship between him and President George W. Bush.

At stake is whether Koizumi will be able to remain in office after the election. The ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito currently has a comfortable majority in the more powerful Lower House.

The Sept. 11 election will be held at a crucial time for the bilateral diplomatic calendar.

The two nations have been stepping up negotiations to compile an interim report on the realignment of U.S. bases in Japan, including reducing the burden in Okinawa, before a planned visit by Koizumi to Washington in late September for talks with Bush.

A trilateral strategic dialogue, also including Australia, of foreign ministers is scheduled in mid-September in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

On beef trade, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has warned Japan that Congress may lose patience and step up retaliatory pressure after its August recess if the import ban on U.S. beef is not lifted.

Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef before it imposed the ban in December 2003, when the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease.

The calling of the election came a day after the fourth round of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear threat in Beijing failed to produce a breakthrough and entered a three-week recess until Aug. 29.

Japan and the U.S. have been working closely in the talks, which also involve China, North and South Korea, and Russia.

India’s ‘G4’ concern

NEW DELHI (Kyodo) India hopes Japan’s political upheaval will not cast a shadow over the joint efforts by the two nations, plus Brazil and Germany, to expand the U.N. Security Council, an Indian Foreign Ministry source said Monday.

The source said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to call a general election may have “some implications” for their bilateral ties but added that it is “premature” to reach a definitive view.

Relations between India and Japan have been improving since 2000, after they soured following India’s nuclear tests in 1998. There has been a better understanding of defense and diplomatic needs, and continuous efforts are being undertaken to boost trade, economic and cultural ties.

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