Planned summit at White House likely to fizzle when Kan resigns


A former senior White House official said Japan and the U.S. will likely reschedule a summit planned for early September in Washington if Prime Minister Naoto Kan steps down before then.

“Invitations tend to be specific to the individual . . . not transferable,” Jeffery Bader, former senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council, said Thursday in an interview.

“The time of the presidents of the United States is one of our most important commodities in government. And the demands on his schedule are enormous, particularly on the foreign policy side,” he said.

Obama invited Kan to Washington when the two leaders held talks on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit at the French seaside resort of Deauville in late May.

Bader, who served as the top White House official on Asian policy until April under the administration of President Barack Obama, voiced concerns about the recent political turmoil in Japan.

He said it is “inevitable” for Japan to focus on internal recovery and rebuilding following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in March.

“But the degree to which the government seems to be weakened, that is not natural; that’s a political phenomenon,” he said. “We would like to see a strong government in Japan. Strong governments are more able to execute and implement policies.”

Kan, who has said he will step down, is struggling to stay in power without disclosing a specific time frame for his exit.

Japan is “one of the most important international actors . . . a country with considerable prestige and influence internationally,” Bader said.

“When Japan is consumed by internal divisions or internal problems, naturally that can affect the power of its voice internationally, or its willingness to engage in international issues,” he said.

Touching on the frequent changes of prime ministers in recent years, he said continuity is important.

On the relocation of the Futenma air base within Okinawa Prefecture, Bader said the current plan — building the replacement facility in a less densely populated coastal area — is “still the best of imperfect plans.”

But calling the plan “unrealistic,” influential senators, including Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, has proposed integrating Futenma’s functions with the existing U.S. air base at Kadena in the island prefecture, while dispersing some air force assets now at Kadena to other areas in the Pacific region.

Bader said that idea has been studied and rejected on many previous occasions.