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Bush Enjoys a Warm Meeting With Koizumi

Diplomacy: President praises visiting Japanese premier's dynamism and backs his tough economic reform plan.

July 01, 2001|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SMITHSBURG, Md. — President Bush strongly backed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's tough economic reform package Saturday, and the two leaders sought to paper over their differences on such issues as Japan's commercial whaling practices and Bush's rejection of the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming.

Instead, during what top White House officials described as a "fantastic" and "incredibly warm" first meeting, the heads of the world's two largest economies emphasized the long U.S.-Japan alliance and their nations' shared interests.

"U.S.-Japan relations have been advanced a lot," in part because there "wasn't any sharp disagreement" between Bush and Koizumi, a senior White House official here said.

Bush and Koizumi reaffirmed the need for a continued but reduced U.S. presence in Okinawa. But Bush expressed U.S. "regret" for the actions of some American servicemen on the island, most notably alleged rapes of local women. He pledged to "do whatever we could" to prevent crimes by U.S. military personnel.

Meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, the two leaders also talked baseball and movies as they forged what one senior Bush aide called "a warm personal working relationship."

On a hot, muggy day, Bush exhibited the same style he showed during his recent weeklong European trip: stressing common ground over differences, listening attentively to his counterpart--but giving no ground on disputed issues. And all the while he applied a personal charm offensive.

Koizumi, in turn, seemed delighted by his host.

"It was a heart-to-heart meeting," he said. "This was truly a wonderful meeting. I did not . . . at the outset believe that I would be able to establish such a strong relationship of trust with the president in my first meeting, which was much more than I expected."

Bush returned the compliments with equal enthusiasm.

"I knew the prime minister was dynamic. I've heard that, I've read it. But you don't really realize how dynamic he is until you have a chance to witness his conversation. He's got a great sense of humor. He loves to laugh," he said.

"But he's a courageous leader as well. And I admire a person who recognizes that his duty is not to avoid, but to lead. . . . We'll have a good personal relationship as well. After all, he's the only world leader I've ever played catch with, with a baseball."

During a brief joint appearance, both men wore open-collar shirts and no jackets. At one point, Koizumi tossed a baseball to Bush, who snagged it with one hand and then winked at bystanders.

Bush gave Koizumi the baseball, which the president had autographed, and a brown Camp David leather jacket. The prime minister gave Bush a picture frame and a digital camera.

According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters, the two men hit it off so well that their planned 45-minute session ran to one hour and 50 minutes.

In Japan, the first major summit of the wildly popular prime minister was being closely followed. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper's main headline today read, "Japan's Reform Was Highly Evaluated." An article on the second page noted that discussions included the economy, diplomacy and security, but "America's interest was focused on the economy."

Bush expressed his firm support for the policies Koizumi is pushing in hopes of reviving Japan's teetering economy. The program includes the wholesale disposal of bad government loans, large reductions in public works spending and privatization of publicly owned companies.

These tough measures are designed to avert what many economists fear may be Japan's fourth and perhaps worst recession in the last decade, a prospect with global implications.

"I want to praise the prime minister for his vision of reform," Bush said. "He is willing to make difficult choices."

What's been described as Koizumi's "manifesto" is one that previous U.S. administrations have recommended in recent years, to little avail.

Japan's economic problems have been accompanied by political turmoil--Koizumi is the 11th Japanese prime minister in 12 years.

Perhaps because of Bush's support for his economic agenda, Koizumi backed off his previous criticism of Bush's opposition to the international global warming pact, which was negotiated in Japan and which Koizumi strongly supports.

"I am not disappointed at the president's position," the prime minister declared.

He added: "The president is enthusiastic about environmental issues, and there is still time to discuss this issue. I believe if the United States and Japan were to cooperate in dealing with environmental issues, we will be able to create means which will be more effective in dealing with the global warming issue."

In a joint communique, Bush and Koizumi also pledged to "consult closely" on missile defense.

Bush was encouraged when Koizumi agreed that "there were new threats" that may require a missile defense system, according to one senior administration official.

The aide said Bush reiterated what he has told other foreign leaders who remain dubious about such a system: "We're not asking for an endorsement of anything specific--just that countries be open-minded at this point as we try to address the threat."

On Japan's controversial commercial whaling practices, Bush and Koizumi acknowledged that, as a senior Bush aide put it, "friends will sometimes disagree on the specifics of an issue such as this."

The aide added: "They agreed that every issue in which there's disagreement is more than swamped by the overall nature of the relationship and how important the relationship is."

Koizumi brought up the 1952 film "High Noon" during a luncheon with Bush and remarked that star Gary Cooper embodied the "American spirit." Bush responded by saying that Koizumi was exhibiting the same courage in taking on the task of reforming Japan's economy.

*

Times staff writer Valerie Reitman in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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