Prime Minister Urges U.S.-Japanese Cooperation on North Korea

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 -- Japan's new prime minister called Tuesday for "close coordination" between his country and the United States on policy toward North Korea, a vexing issue that chilled relations between the two allies in the final months of the Bush administration.

Yukio Hatoyama, who will meet with President Obama for the first time Wednesday, spearheaded the successful campaign by his center-left Democratic Party of Japan to end nearly half a century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. His government has suggested a substantial reassessment of Japan's military relationship with the United States and has demanded an examination of secret nuclear agreements between the two countries.

But Hatoyama said in an interview that relations between Washington and Tokyo should improve because both he and Obama were elected on messages of "change" and their success had led to the "vitality" of people in both countries. "I am convinced that surely this is going to have a possible and good impact on Japan-United States relations as well," he said through an interpreter. "I very much would like to have the trust of the American people."

On North Korea, he said he approves of plans by the United States to send an envoy to Pyongyang to urge the government to return to six-nation disarmament talks. "I very much hope through that process the U.S. will be able to lead us back to the six-party talks," he said. "In that context, I welcome bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea. But we don't want everything to be settled in the framework of U.S. bilateral talks."

Hatoyama twice stressed the need for "close coordination" between the two countries on North Korea. He said he learned of the administration's plans for bilateral talks from newspaper reports, but he said that did not mean that others in his government were not informed ahead of time.

The Bush administration removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, even though the Stalinist government did not yield to Japanese pleas to provide details on Japanese citizens it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. The U.S. decision stunned the Japanese government.

Hatoyama noted with approval that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the families of abductees during her first official trip to Japan, saying the fact that she "showed her sympathy for these people was indeed much appreciated as a message."

Before the United Nations on Tuesday, in a speech delivered in English, Hatoyama renewed a pledge to sharply reduce pollution.

But he said in the interview that it was not inconsistent to also promise to roll back a hefty gas tax in Japan. He said experience has shown that changes in the price of gasoline do not change consumption.

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