• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States agreed Saturday to speed up talks on realigning the U.S. military in Japan and to launch a bilateral framework to enhance cooperation on development issues, a Japanese official said.

In talks in New York, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura informed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Japan is considering extending the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s antiterrorism support mission in the Indian Ocean beyond Nov. 1.

Rice repeated the U.S. request that Japan promptly lift its ban on U.S. beef imports while Machimura responded that Tokyo will continue efforts toward resolving the matter as soon as possible, the official said.

“We want to accelerate the talks from the standpoint of maintaining deterrent power and reducing the burden on Okinawa and other localities” hosting U.S. bases, Machimura was quoted as saying. Rice responded that Washington also wants the negotiations to pick up speed.

On the issue of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Rice reiterated that Washington places importance on the early resolution of Japan’s ban on beef imports, the official said.

Machimura said although he cannot predict when the Food Safety Commission, an independent body examining the matter from a scientific standpoint, will reach a conclusion, Tokyo will try to resolve the matter quickly.

Japan has banned U.S. beef imports since mad cow disease cropped up in the United States in December 2003.

Britain and Iraq

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agreed Saturday to hold closer consultations to make sure the political process in Iraq moves forth smoothly and steadily, a Japanese official said.

Machimura and Straw welcomed close Japanese-British relations in the southern Iraq city of Samawah, where British security troops and Japanese humanitarian aid troops are working side by side. They also agreed to step up bilateral dialogue as the rebuilding of Iraq enters an important and crucial period through the end of the year.

A referendum is scheduled by Oct. 15 on whether to approve a new constitution for the country, a planned new national assembly election is to take place by Dec. 15 and a full-fledged Iraqi government is expected to be established thereafter.

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