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Friday, December 05, 2003

Baker praises Japan's Iraq efforts

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker said Thursday the relationship between his country and Japan is "the best it has ever been."

In a luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, the 78-year-old Baker encouraged Japan to take its "rightful place as a great nation," but warned that with such a role come great responsibilities and implied that a willingness to project a nation's power overseas, including through the dispatch of military personnel, was part of fulfilling those responsibilities.

Beginning his remarks by offering condolences for the deaths of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq, Baker said, "We share the grief of the families and the Japanese people on the loss of these two brave public servants."

He praised the steps the government has taken thus far in support of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism and reconstruction effort in Iraq, and enumerated the U.S. successes in the rebuilding of Iraq.

He also addressed Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, calling Japan "a great superpower" and reaffirming U.S. support for the effort and his personal belief that the prime minister was "up to the challenge" of leading the nation to a major role on the world stage.

Responding to questions about the possibility of terrorist attacks in Tokyo, Baker said, "Terrorism knows no boundaries." He said no nation was safe, but ultimately the best defense was strength and the best course for Japan was to join with other nations to show terrorists their attacks would not go unanswered.

The key political significance of Japan's dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, regardless of the number, was that it symbolized the "unity of free peoples to face down terror." He said such a dispatch would demonstrate Japan's sense of responsibility as great nation and would be an expression of national determination for the country to "participate fully and freely in the cause of peace and stability."

The U.S. ambassador and former White House chief of staff under U.S. President Ronald Reagan said the global realignment of U.S. military forces currently being considered could lead to a reduction in U.S. troops in Japan. Whether any changes in the deployment of U.S. forces in Asia would involve reducing the number of personnel stationed in Okinawa prefecture or relocating them elsewhere in Japan was not yet know, he said.

The one thing Baker said he could be sure of was that, "nothing we do will diminish our commitment to the security of Japan. "

Baker reiterated the U.S. contention that evidence prior to the invasion of Iraq strongly indicated the presence of weapons of mass destruction, saying that the failure of the United States to find any WMD was an indication of the skill of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussien's regime at concealing such weapons, not proof the weapons did not exist.

Asked if the United States intended to take any action on WMD possessed by Israel in its efforts to eliminate WMD in the Middle East, Baker said Israel's possession of nuclear weapons was considered an accomplished fact and that his greatest worry was the threat posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of the "politically unstable regime" in North Korea.

"An accident is one thing, but an accident with a pocketful of nuclear bombs is something else," he said. Such an accident could take many forms from an error in orders by a junior officer in the demilitarized zone to a deteriorating political situation prompting a preemptive strike.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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