A Conversation With Shinzo Abe

By Lally Weymouth
Sunday, April 22, 2007

President Bush will welcome new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House and Camp David this week. The first Japanese head of government born after 1945, Abe is a staunch nationalist who has aroused controversy with his dismissive remarks about "comfort women" -- women forced to serve the Japanese army as prostitutes during World War II. Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth sat down with Abe in Tokyo to discuss issues ranging from changing Japan's constitution to forging a new relationship with China.

What do you hope to accomplish in Washington?

I had the pleasure of meeting President Bush last year in Hanoi, and I am looking forward to seeing him again. I believe the Japan-U.S. alliance is the only indispensable alliance, and I'd like to use my visit to further strengthen this relationship.

How do you feel about the recent agreement on the North Korean nuclear program that was reached in the Six Party T alks?

I welcome this agreement, but what is important is that North Korea actually act in a concrete manner to abandon nuclear weapons in accordance with that agreement. It is also important that we make the North Koreans understand that if they do not act accordingly, none of the problems they are facing today will be resolved and the situation they find themselves in will only get worse.

Do you feel sidelined [in the talks] because the Japanese government has said it will not participate in the U.S.-led deal until the issue of abductees [as many as 17 Japanese were abducted by North Koreans in the 1970s to teach Japanese language and culture to their security services] is resolved?

On this question, Japan and the United States are fully coordinated. I discussed this matter on the phone with President Bush. It is a matter to be discussed at the North Korea-Japan working group. To the extent that the issue remains unresolved, there will be no normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, and therefore there will be no attainment of the objectives of the Six Party Talks.

All the participating countries in the Six Party Talks understand that if there is no progress on the abduction issue, Japan will not participate in energy assistance for North Korea.

What would you define as progress? It appears that the United States wants to go ahead with this deal.

At this moment North Korea is not responding in good faith at all. It is for us to judge if there is progress, not the North Koreans.

Last week the Chinese premier came to Tokyo -- the first visit of a senior Chinese official in seven years. How do you see relations with China now and what came out of the visi t of Premier Wen Jiabao?

Since I took office as prime minister last September, I have met with [Chinese] President Hu Jintao twice, during my visit to China and also during the APEC summit. And I've had three meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao. On my visit to China last year, I agreed with the Chinese leadership that we together shall build a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests. There are numerous issues that can be covered -- the environment, energy, North Korea, East Asian development, U.N. reform and others. I believe that our cooperation on these fronts will benefit not just Japan and China but Asia and the entire world.

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