Friday, February 02, 2007

Japan's minister ignores US demand to end criticism
Peter Alford,Tokyo correspondent
January 29, 2007

THE US Government has drawn a line in the sand over criticism from Japan's Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma, but the outspoken Mr Kyuma has immediately stepped across it. The Kyodo news agency reported yesterday the head of the State Department's Japanese affairs office, James Zumwalt, had lodged a protest about Mr Kyuma's comments critical of the US's Iraq campaign on Wednesday and last month.

Mr Zumwalt warned officials from Japan's Washington embassy that further provocative remarks would make it "difficult" to arrange security talks between Mr Kyuma, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and new Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Strongly pro-American Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pressing for fresh "two-plus-two" talks on bilateral security issues and is understood to have told the 66-year-old national security veteran on Friday to watch his words.

But 66-year-old Mr Kyuma was at it again on Saturday, saying the US "doesn't understand" the importance of local negotiations to resolve the problem of relocating a military airbase on Okinawa.

"We've been telling them, 'Please don't say things that are too cocky, we are talking to the (Okinawa) governor, so please wait for a while'," he said in a public speech referring to an argument about shifting a US Marines airbase from crowded Ginowan City to Nago.

Given American frustration at Japan's foot-dragging before the national Government agreed to the relocation last year and the protracted negotiations since with Okinawa's Government, Mr Kyuma's chiding is likely to infuriate the US administration.

The remarks followed his meeting on Friday with Mr Abe, after which he promised to take more care.

He offended the Americans by saying on Wednesday -- at virtually the same moment as President George W. Bush's State of the Union address -- that the President's decision to invade Iraq was wrong.

In December, Mr Kyuma criticised Japan's support for US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and claimed then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi had acted without government authority in sending a non-combatant contingent to southern Iraq.

Mr Kyuma's comments on Friday made clear that he continues to hold views critical of the US, though he suggested the strength of his remarks was unnecessarily amplified by English-language media translations.

"If they were taken (as criticism) I think I should be more careful how I say things," he told reporters. "Even if they were my thoughts, I think perhaps it might be better not to say them."

Mr Kyuma is one of many headaches the new PM created for himself by appointing perhaps the least impressive cabinet in years. He is actually one of the most popular of Mr Abe's team.

Possibly reflecting that Mr Kyuma's dim view of American military policy is widely held in his Liberal Democratic Party, though usually carefully repressed, Mr Abe has not publicly repudiated the Defence Minister's comments.

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