Bush, Fukuda discuss NKorea, Afghanistan

Other News Materials 17 November 2007 06:43 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told US President George W. Bush here Friday that he would make his "utmost efforts" to restart a Japanese naval mission supporting US-led efforts in Afghanistan.

After talks meant to defuse tensions on a range of issues, Bush promised "we will not forget" the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea as Washington moves to take Pyongyang off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The prime minister also pledged to work to build "trusting relations" between Japan and China, according to Japanese deputy chief cabinet secretary Mitsuhide Iwaki, who attended the closed-door meeting.

Bush and Fukuda held their first formal face-to-face talks at a time when relations between the United States and its closest ally in Asia have run into a number of snags.

Washington did not hide its unhappiness earlier this month when the Japanese opposition forced a suspension in a naval mission to supply fuel to US-led forces in Afghanistan when its mandate expired.

"I told President Bush that I will make the utmost efforts for an early enactment of a legislation so that Japan's naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean will resume as soon as possible," Fukuda said.

Fukuda, a 71-year-old political veteran who took over in September amid turmoil in his Liberal Democratic Party, was to spend only 26 hours here before flying home to help shepherd a bill to resume the mission through parliament.

For his part, Bush tackled the problem of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies, which has flared up amid Japanese anger over US plans to say Pyongyang no longer sponsors terrorism.

"I understand how important the issue is to the Japanese people. We will not forget the Japanese abductees and their families," promised Bush, who did not explicitly tie the issue to de-listing North Korea as a terrorism backer.

Fukuda welcomed that pledge, saying: "On the abduction issue in particular, President Bush again confirmed the United States' unchanged support for the Japanese government."

On another dispute, Bush chided Tokyo for once again suspending US beef imports to Japan, urging Fukuda to open up Japanese markets to all US products and putting Texas beef on the menu for their working lunch at the White House.

Fukuda replied that Japan "will deal with this issue based on scientific findings with the top priority placed on people's food safety."

Japan once again suspended beef imports from a US meatpacking plant in October, amid Japanese fears of the threat from mad cow disease.

The two leaders also discussed climate change and energy security as well as the situation in Myanmar and international efforts to force Iran to suspend sensitive nuclear work that can lead to developing atomic weapons.

"The prime minister and I agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the security of the Middle East and beyond," said Bush. "We agreed that unless Iran commits to suspend enrichment, international pressure must, and will, grow."

Our two nations are united in our efforts to change the regime's behavior through diplomacy," he said.

Fukuda highlighted the importance of the Japan-US alliance, noting that he chose Washington as his first foreign stop as prime minister and vowing to work "hand-in-hand" with the United States on the international scene.

But Japan has vowed to withhold its aid for North Korea under a six-nation deal reached in February to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear programs until progress is made on the abduction issue.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il admitted in 2002 to abducting Japanese citizens, and has since returned five kidnap victims and their spouses and children.

Pyongyang, however, says others who were abducted are dead and the issue is closed. Tokyo believes there are other kidnapped Japanese still being held, possibly because they know state secrets.