WASHINGTON—President Bush and his friend, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, have a lot to talk about before they can kick back and tour Elvis Presley's Graceland.
Japan and the United States both have suspicious minds about North Korea's nuclear weapons program, both are intent on keeping the peace on the Korean Peninsula and between China and Taiwan, and both want to ensure that Asia isn't all shook up by China's growing prestige and economic power. At the same time, they need to find ways to cooperate on other issues, including curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Koizumi took office months after President Bush did in 2001, and he'll step down in September when his term ends. They'll hold their last summit on Thursday.
"I think one of the reasons President Bush is particularly fond of Koizumi is not just his flair and his color, but he says what he is going to do, he says what he can't do, and he does what he says he's going to do," said Michael Green, a Japan expert who coordinated Asia policy at the National Security Council until last December.
Green said that while the Koizumi-Bush chemistry has been very important to both men and to the strength of U.S.-Japan relations, "I think there are broader reasons why there's a strategic convergence."
Bush and Koizumi are sure to discuss how to respond if North Korea, which declares that it has nuclear weapons, tests a long-range missile, a senior administration official said, briefing reporters on Wednesday under White House ground rules that require anonymity.
Japan is within range of North Korea's missiles, and its Taepodong-2 missile also is believed to be capable of reaching parts of the United States. North Korea has refrained from long-range missile tests since 1999.
A defense official, who briefed McClatchy on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Wednesday that while some intelligence analysts believe the North Koreans fueled the missile last week, others have concluded that they didn't. U.S. intelligence agencies rely heavily on satellite images of North Korea, and while they can show missiles being moved to launch pads and fuel hoses being connected, they don't show whether any fuel was pumped through the hoses.
The U.S.-Japan alliance has guaranteed stability in the Asia-Pacific region for decades, and the two countries want to preserve that power as China grows.
If China can't be contained, and if China and the United States have to compromise on everything, "that's a bad deal for the U.S. because you're essentially splitting the difference between two different systems," Green said.
In cooperation with two democracies, Japan and India, the United States can set "an agenda for Asia that is, in effect, one we are comfortable with and one that we want China to sign onto," Green said Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he's a senior adviser.
Japan also could help balance China's relationship with Russia, said Kurt Campbell, a former Asia expert at the Pentagon and the NSC who's also at CSIS now. "Russia's sole entry point into Asia is through China," including energy deals and weapons sales, he said.
Koizumi has guided Japan to a larger global role, including sending Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force troops to southern Iraq for reconstruction, a stint now ending.
U.S. and Japanese interests don't always mesh perfectly. Japan imports oil from Iran, and a Japanese company has a contract to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field. Japanese officials reportedly have suggested they'd support some sanctions if Iran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for a package of international incentives, but Japan's plans are unclear. The Bush administration and others suspect Iran could use its civilian nuclear program as a cover for weapons development.
The United States recently has had tiffs with Japan over Japan's closure of its markets to U.S. beef, resolved last week, and Washington's request that Tokyo shoulder about $6 billion of the cost of moving 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Ron Hutcheson and Jonathan S. Landay in Washington and Tim Johnson in Beijing contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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