President Reagan, declaring that Japan and America "will go forward together," began White House talks yesterday with Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki designed to pave the way for increased strategic and military cooperation.
In a sunny, colorful welcoming ceremony and 1 1/2 hours of initial talks, Reagan avoided controversy or confrontation while making plain the U.S. desire for active alliance with Japan in an Anti-Soviet cause.
"We in America are grateful for the strong measures that you have taken to penalize the Soviet Union for its violent aggression in Afghanistan," Reagan declared in his welcoming remarks, without commenting on public hints that Japan may relax some of its anti-Soviet sanctions now that the U.S. partial grain embargo has been lifted.
Suzuki, who did not mention the Soviets by name, called for "a candid exchange of views" on the responsibilities and roles of Japan and the United States "in the current international situation."
The initial discussions were described by officials on both sides as friendly in tone and very general in substance. After a 45-minute talk through interpreters, Suzuki said he and Reagan were "real buddies" and had laid "an unshakeable basis for mutual trust," according to a White House briefer.
U.S. strategy is to "align the perspectives" of the two countries on "the growing Soviet strategic threat" through broad and general discussion during the White House meetings, according to a senior U.S. participant. If Japan accepts U.S. strategic views, two follow-up meetings next month will deal with the details.
Specifically, Pentagon officials are expected to ask Japan in Honolulu in mid-June to accept a greater role in air and sea surveillance of a large area of the Western Pacific as well as responsibility in case of emergency for stockpiling war supplies and for bottling up the Soviet fleet by closing key straits.
These proposals may be further discussed later in June in a meeting of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Joji Omura, chief of the Japanese Defense Agency.
The logical consequence of expanded military responsibilities and roles for Japan in the Pacific would be additional advanced military equipment, manpower and supplies requiring a higher level of Japanese military spending.
Reagan administration planners believe they can achieve greater success on the defense issue in this indirect fashion, leaving the politically sensitive ways and means to the Japanese government, rather than confronting Japan with a demand for specific percentage increases in its military budget.
It is far from certain, however, that Suzuki will accept this approach. He told the House Foreign Affairs Committee late yesterday that Japan is making "steady and sustained efforts in defense" but that in the strategic arena "we put our trust in the U.S. nuclear umbrella."
Suzuki added, according to Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), that "we would prefer to be a wise mouse rather than a roaring lion."
While on Capitol Hill, Suzuki announced to a reception in the Senate Caucus room the allocation of $250,000 per year for five years to finance summer visits to Japan by 100 American high school students. Each U.S. senator will select one student each year to make the trip. The lawmakers applauded this planned extension of their patronage.
In the White House meeting, Reagan and Suzuki dealt smoothly with several issues that earlier had threatened the prized harmony of their initial meeting.
According to a White House briefer, Reagan expressed appreciation for the voluntary export curbs on Japanese automobiles that headed off demands for restrictive U.S. legislation and spoke sympathetically about the "tragic accident" in which a U.S. ballistic missile submarine sunk a Japanese freighter.