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Bush against 75perc of japanese who want article 9 { May 9 2001 }

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May 9, 2001
Top Bush Aide Urges Japan to Form In-Depth Ties With U.S.

A senior American official who in the past has advocated a full-fledged army for Japan urged Tokyo today to develop a partnership with Washington that more closely resembles the alliance between Britain and the United States.

Referring to the ties with Japan as America's ''most important alliance in Asia,'' the official, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, called for even stronger bonds.

''As a lot more of U.S. thinking turns toward Asia, I'd like to see a relationship with Japan that is like that of the relationship with Great Britain, in that it is taken for granted that of course we will consult on all matters, and of course we have a very in-depth, warm and personal relationship regardless of which party comes to power,'' Mr. Armitage said in an interview after meeting Japanese leaders.

''That's the kind of thing we want,'' he said. ''We don't want a relationship with Japan where people are constantly having to remind themselves of the need to consult.''

In a gesture symbolic of such closeness, Mr. Armitage said he had carried a letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, inviting him to visit Washington ''as early as possible.''

At one level, Mr. Armitage's comments represented a simple restatement of themes from Mr. Bush's presidential campaign, in which he promised to pay closer attention to ties with Japan.

But coming from a co-author of an influential private report late last year that called on Japan to revise its Constitution to be able to field an army, and to accept a larger share of the alliance's defense burden, the remarks seemed to place the Bush administration squarely in the middle of the most vigorous debate of those questions that Japan has seen in decades.

Mr. Koizumi was chosen to lead the governing Liberal Democratic Party -- and thus become prime minister -- after campaigning among party members on a platform that included calls for the first-ever revisions of Japan's American-written post-World War II Constitution.

He advocates the direct election of prime ministers and an amendment that would enable Japan to field a full-fledged army.

Asked what Japan would have to do to create an alliance more like the one that links the United States and Britain, Mr. Armitage strongly hinted at constitutional change, which he advocated in his report on the alliance with Japan, which was written before he took office.

''The lack of consensus on collective self-defense is an obstacle,'' Mr. Armitage said. ''And the lack of an ability to participate in collective self-defense, although they are signatories to a defense treaty, is an obstacle. I think it is a healthy thing for the Japanese to look at some of these things and see what is reasonable and what is not.''

Mr. Koizumi seemed to make the same point in his inaugural news conference. ''If, in seas in our own vicinity, when Japan and the U.S. are conducting exercises, and the American military is attacked, is it really possible for Japan to do nothing?'' he asked. But since then, bowing to popular sentiment and to the wishes of his party's strongly pacifist main coalition partner, Mr. Koizumi has considerably toned down talk of revising Article 9 of the Constitution, which governs Japan's defense.

Indeed, later in that same first news conference, Mr. Koizumi acknowledged that it ''would be difficult to put that on the political agenda at this moment.''

An opinion poll on May 2 by Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper, indicated that 74 percent of the Japanese public opposed revision of Article 9.

Although Washington's antimissile plan was the main item on Mr. Armitage's agenda here and in successive stops in Seoul and New Delhi, he said he had not come to sell the idea to America's friends and allies in Asia.

''It was a message that this is the beginning of a process of consultations,'' he said. ''We are not in a position to present any final decision and didn't come here with any fait accompli.

''We want to make it clear that the president has asked us to come to seek the views of friends and allies in the region. We are not here to sell missile defense. We are here to expose our friends to our views on the need for a new strategic framework.''

In recent weeks there have been signs of nervousness in both Tokyo and Seoul over the Bush administration's antimissile project. Some in Japan have expressed anxiety that taking part in the program would aggravate already delicate ties with China. Shortly after taking office, Mr. Koizumi's government openly expressed reservations about the missile plan.

South Korean officials, meanwhile, say privately that they worry that the program will antagonize North Korea, further complicating the reconciliation between those two countries.

In briefing his Japanese counterparts, Mr. Armitage said he had stressed that the proposed missile defense was intended to counter ''rogue or accidental launches,'' rather than to contain strategic rivals.

''I hope I was persuasive in talking to my Japanese colleagues, that this was not something that need be threatening to the Chinese,'' he said. ''I spent considerable energy at the Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency explaining that we didn't view Russia as the enemy. We also don't view China as an enemy, though we thought that many of the choices China will make will dictate the future of our relationship.''

* Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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