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Japanese Minister Rebuked For Roiling US Alliance

Japanese defence minister Fumio Kyuma.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 28, 2007
Japan's defence minister has been slapped down by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office after stirring up the long alliance with the United States by criticising the Iraq war and a realignment of US forces. Four days after calling the US decision to invade Iraq "wrong", Fumio Kyuma said Saturday that Washington was "too cocky" in pressing Tokyo to relocate a US military base on the strategic island of Okinawa.

The US State Department lodged a protest with the Japanese embassy after Kyuma's comment on Iraq, saying it took the remark seriously as it immediately followed US President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech, Kyodo News reported.

Hours after his latest remarks about the Okinawa base, a senior government official in Tokyo expressed the prime minister's displeasure.

"We must remember there is another player in this matter, that is the United States," the official told Japanese reporters on condition of anonymity.

"Prime Minister Abe is also worried," the official went on, referring to concerns that such remarks could hurt the Japanese-US alliance, touted in both capitals as the strongest in decades.

The official said Kyuma had been advised by the premier's right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, to be "careful not to send a wrong message."

The Japanese and US governments agreed last May to relocate a US marine air base to a scenic beach from a cramped urban area.

But local residents have demanded a review of the plan due to concerns over noise and safety.

In a speech Saturday in the southern prefecture of Nagasaki, Kyuma said the plan cannot be implemented "unless the Okinawan governor says 'yes.'"

"The United States doesn't understand spadework," he added. "We've been telling (the United States), 'Please don't say things that are too cocky. Let Japan handle matters in Japan.'"

Kyuma may be asked to retract the comment because Bush badly needs support from his Pacific ally after losing control of the US Congress to the opposition Democrats, reports here said.

On Wednesday, he told the Japanese National Press Club that Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003 on the assumption there were nuclear weapons there.

"I think that decision was wrong," he said.

Kyuma later said his remarks did not reflect the government's position -- the country has deployed troops with the US-led coalition in Iraq -- and that he was talking about how he felt when the war began.

Kyodo News, quoting diplomatic sources, said the US protest was lodged by James Zumwalt, who heads the US State Department's Office of Japanese Affairs, to a staff member at the Japanese embassy.

Zumwalt said it might be difficult to arrange a next regular "two-plus-two" meeting of foreign and defence ministers from the two countries if there were further remarks from Japan critical of the US president, Kyodo said.

A senior Japanese foreign ministry official told Jiji Press he did not take Zumwalt's move as a formal protest.

"What the United States really wanted to say, is 'enough is enough' when the president is in trouble over the Iraq problem," the official said.

The diplomatic flap emerged as Abe's popularity has fallen to less than 40 percent, compared with 70 percent after he took over from Junichiro Koizumi, another pro-US politician, four months ago.

Advocating an "assertive" diplomacy, Abe has pushed through conservative reforms including creating a full-fledged defense ministry for the first time since World War II.

But he has faced the resignation of two top aides in scandals and welcomed back into the fold opponents of Koizumi's reform agenda, leading to charges he is under the thumb of older powerbrokers.

Abe's health minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, also came under fire Sunday for calling women "child-bearing machines" in a speech on the country's declining birth rate.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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