Japan's Leader Cites Limits In Global Security Abilities

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TOKYO, Nov. 13 -- Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda affirmed on Monday the singular importance of Japan's alliance with the United States, but also made it clear that his government's reach in global security affairs would not be as expansive as the Bush administration wants.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Fukuda, who this week will make his first foreign visit as prime minister to Washington to meet with President Bush, said that Japan-U.S. relations are the "very foundation" of his foreign policy.

Yet in prepared remarks to begin the interview, Fukuda carefully narrowed the main focus of his government's foreign policy to Asia, particularly North Korea and China. "I believe the heaviest responsibility for Japan is to see to it that there is stability and prosperity in Asia," he said.

On a visit to Tokyo last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged Fukuda's government to raise its sights considerably. Japan should shoulder "global security responsibilities" commensurate with its wealth and military strength, he said.

"There are a number of international peacekeeping and other activities where we believe Japan could play a constructive role," he added.

Asked about these comments, Fukuda said that Gates "did not exactly say that Japan should engage in international or global activity."

Fukuda added that, in any case, international operations by Japan's military forces are constitutionally limited. Japan's pacifist constitution was drafted by the United States during its postwar occupation of Japan.

In the interview, Fukuda also put distance between his government and the Bush administration on the issue of North Korea and its nuclear weapons program.

In recent months, tension between the United States and North Korea has eased, as the government of Kim Jong Il has promised to disclose, disable and eventually dismantle its nuclear facilities. In return, the Bush administration has offered fuel assistance and said it would move toward removing North Korea from a list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Japan, though, has remained somewhat distant from this process. Last month, Fukuda's cabinet voted to extend economic sanctions against North Korea for another six months.

"We do not take exception to the substance" of U.S. dealings with North Korea, Fukuda said. Still, he said, "the existence of North Korean nuclear weapons is a greater threat to Japan than to the United States. So naturally we cannot remain indifferent to that. We are, of course, greatly concerned."

Fukuda, 71, was chosen by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to lead Japan seven weeks ago, after the abrupt resignation of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

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