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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plans to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in Mexico later this month. Koizumi sets great store on Japan-U.S. friendship. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in September, Koizumi said: “I have felt a strong affinity and trust with the president. I believe this friendship represents the larger friendship between our two countries.”

A month after the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, major developments have affected Japan-U.S. relations. After Koizumi made a historic trip to North Korea, a special envoy of the Bush administration visited Pyongyang. Bush announced a new U.S. national security strategy, indicating readiness to make a pre-emptive strike in self-defense — with military action against Iraq in mind.

In the newly opened extraordinary Diet session, debate will center on ways to revive Japan’s moribund economy by stabilizing the nation’s banking system and controlling deflation. The Bush administration is stepping up pressure on Japan to expedite writeoffs of nonperforming bank loans.

Key issues in Japan-U.S. relations are Iraq, North Korea and the economy. The two countries must coordinate their policy differences over these issues.

In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Koizumi said Japan and the United States together should tackle three challenges in the 21st century — “our security in the post-9/11 age, the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and our prosperity in the global age.” He added, “The question is how Japan and the United States should cooperate to meet these challenges.”

The first challenge concerns terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The major question for Japan is how to deal with anticipated U.S. military action against Iraq.

In his Sept. 12 talks with Bush, Koizumi urged the U.S. to obtain international support in advance, but Bush did not rule out the possibility of attacking Iraq unilaterally. Clearly there are significant policy differences between Japan and the U.S. on this issue.

The “Bush doctrine,” calling for a pre-emptive strike if necessary, marks a departure from the Cold War-era deterrent-based strategies. The doctrine says: “We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists.” European countries have criticized the policy, which they say could disrupt the international order.

How should Japan deal with U.S. moves to oust the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? At the very least, a United Nations Security Council resolution must clarify the procedures for international inspections of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the conditions for military action against the country. Tokyo should inform Washington that it cannot support U.S. military action unless the Security Council adopts a resolution in support of such action.

The Bush administration seeks “regime changes” in Iraq and Iran, having named the countries as part of the “axis of evil.” For Japan, however, weapons of mass destruction are not the only issue. Japanese diplomacy must be based on a long-term perspective on relations with the Islamic world.

Indonesia, one of the largest recipients of Japan’s official development assistance, has the world’s largest population of Muslims. Japan’s energy security hinges on its relations with Iran and other Persian Gulf countries, which supply 80 percent of its oil requirements.

The second challenge — regarding the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region — is focused on the Korean Peninsula. Following Koizumi’s landmark visit to North Korea, Japan will resume negotiations on diplomatic normalization with North Korea on Oct. 29. Questions about the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents are still unresolved, although five survivors have returned to Japan on a temporary visit. North Korea says eight of the abductees have died.

Meanwhile, there has been little progress in negotiations with North Korea on security issues, especially on nuclear arms, weapons of mass destruction and a reduction in conventional forces. These are issues of strong concern to Washington. U.S. special envoy James Kelly’s visit to North Korea in early October produced no tangible results except — as was learned last week — an admission from his counterpart that North Korea has been conducting a secret nuclear-weapons development program for several years in violation of a 1994 agreement with the U.S. The program also runs counter to a mutual pledge to abide by international agreements — as stated in the Pyongyang Declaration issued on Sept. 17.

North Korea is likely to be more interested in negotiations with the U.S. than with Japan. But with Washington refusing to change its hardline position, Pyongyang apparently hopes to promote talks first with Tokyo with a view toward obtaining economic aid. A gap emerging between the engagement policies of Japan and South Korea and the hardline policies of the U.S. would only benefit North Korea.

Security is a crucial issue for Japan. Settlement of security issues must precede Japan-North Korea diplomatic normalization, and Tokyo should tell Pyongyang that until such a settlement is reached, there will be no economic aid. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea should step up cooperation in dealing with North Korea; that should strengthen the three-way alliance.

The third challenge concerns the economy. Koizumi said in his speech, “The revival of its economy, which accounts for 13 percent of the global economy, is the biggest contribution that Japan can make to the international community.”

Bush administration officials, however, express increasing frustration with the slow progress by the Koizumi administration in expediting writeoffs of nonperforming loans and in pushing economic recovery. Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said in an interview, “We continue to believe that he (Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka) is an excellent reformer.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press briefing that Washington welcomes the “commitment being shown by Koizumi and Takenaka to dispose of nonperforming loans and address these important issues.”

There is strong concern in Washington that delays in Japan’s economic recovery could affect U.S. economic health. Public dissatisfaction is growing in Japan against the Koizumi administration’s economic management. There is not much time left for Koizumi to meet the Bush administration’s expectations.

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