Japan's State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ichita Yamamoto, arrived here last Friday with all deliberate speed in a most extraordinary role. After moves to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty flopped on the Senate floor, his boss, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, dispatched the newly appointed 41-year-old Georgetown University graduate to convey Japan's concerns in person. It is not often that a foreign dignitary gets to voice displeasure to a former and very formidable professor: Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
In 1982, she lectured Yamamoto and his friend Taro Kono--the son of the foreign minister--on negotiating strategies in nuclear talks between Russia and the United States. Last week's turnabout may be the mother of all diplomatic ironies, but Albright retained her gravitas. First, Yamamoto checked whether he should call her secretary or professor. When she responded with "whatever you like," he settled, to her delight, on professor.
"We are concerned about the United States," began Yamamoto, who in 1982 lobbied Albright a half-dozen times to try to get an A grade instead of the B she gave him for not speaking up enough in class. "Don't worry about us," she shot back, "we can take care of ourselves."
The mood had changed from that of a previous encounter between teacher and students in Tokyo, during Albright's first official visit there. "Taro and I sent her a letter asking for an unofficial meeting without telling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and she was very kind to meet with us at the U.S. Embassy," Yamamoto recalled. "She was secretary of state, and we were tiny creatures in the parliament. She hugged us when she saw us in Tokyo." How about last Friday? "This time, I thought about it, but I could not get myself to do it; I was on official business," Yamamoto said with a sheepish grin.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a "historic and epoch-making treaty," he said in an interview after his meeting with Albright. North Korea is a major concern for Japan, and the North Koreans "can use this vote as an excuse not to comply with an agreement reached with the United States," he said. "The credibility and leverage of [the United States] will definitely go down," he added, referring to the effect the Senate vote may have on U.S. negotiations with Russia on strategic arms reduction treaties.
Yamamoto said Japan is also troubled by how India and Pakistan may respond. "This is very bad timing," he said. Japan has already suffered from nuclear warfare, and when North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan last year, Japanese public opinion was shocked, and shaken into caring about the test ban treaty.
Japan's relationship with the United States will not change, but "we have to continue to tell the United States you really should not spoil the opportunity to make the world a safer place through the [test ban treaty]. Because it is an internal problem, it is not easy for Japan to meddle or preach," he said, articulating a universal diplomatic dilemma. "Maybe Japan should team up with other nations in pushing the U.S. Congress. We have to be very sensitive because the United States continues to be our most important partner for the future--in economics, in trade and in terms of security."
Yamamoto said he was very frank when he spoke to Albright, even though he remembered her as a exacting professor. "She was very strict, yes very strict. But I liked her because she was very fair and kindly invited students to her home," he recalled. Yamamoto is still awed by his former teacher. "When I said we were concerned for the United States--I guess she was a little bit mad at my comment," he said.
A Grandmother's Wisdom
But things brightened up for Albright later in the week. On Friday, she was inducted into the International Hall of Fame at the International Women's Forum award gala--a ceremony at the National Building Museum that she described as a terrific end to "what has not, for me, been a terrific week." "We think America must have the resources it needs to lead," she said in her acceptance speech, a reference to congressional attempts to slash the foreign affairs budget. On the Senate's "drive-by consideration" of the test ban treaty, she noted: "Let me say that we will not give up . . . and there are grounds for encouragement. . . . Scientists have discovered for the first time that adult humans are capable of growing new brain cells. So there may be hope after all."
On the eve of the tour of Africa she is making this week, Albright said she has often met women who came together "not in fancy meeting rooms, but in refugee camps and remote villages, in urban health clinics or in arid wastelands, where nothing grows but the appetites of small children." She said the international women's movement endures because of its central premise that "every individual counts." Last month, Albright became a grandmother for the fourth time. The child was her first granddaughter, and she wants her to have secure individual rights and to be safe from nuclear weapons. Her name is Madeleine. Way to go.