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Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda left for Washington on Wednesday for talks with influential current and former U.S. officials.

Fukuda, who is rumored to be planning a run to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, plans to meet with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker, as well as members of Congress and scholars at think tanks, Fukuda’s aides said.

He also hopes to arrange meetings with key U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, before returning home on May 18, they said.

The 69-year-old heavyweight in Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to stress the importance of Japan strengthening its alliance with the United States and mending strained relations with China.