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Clinton Relaxed, Optimistic About Ties With New Japanese Government

By David Gollust
State Department
16 September 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she is relaxed and optimistic about the future of U.S. relations with the new Japanese government despite potential problems over Afghanistan and the relocation of American forces based in Japan. The Obama administration has sent a senior envoy to meet officials of the new left-leaning government just installed in Tokyo.

Clinton says the new leaders in Japan may govern more pragmatically than some of their campaign rhetoric has indicated. And she is expressing confidence that the decades-old U.S.-Japanese alliance will remain solid despite expected policy changes by the government of new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

During the election campaign, Mr. Hatoyama indicated he would not extend, beyond January, a critical at-sea refueling mission by Japan's navy for American ships with cargoes for the allied mission in Afghanistan.

The incoming Japanese Democratic Party leadership also suggested it would renegotiate a recent agreement under which Japan would underwrite the cost of moving U.S. forces from Okinawa to Guam.

But in a press event here with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Clinton cited an adage by former New York state governor Mario Cuomo that a politician campaigns in poetry and governs in prose - a suggestion that the new Japanese government's policies may be more moderate than campaign statements.

In any event, she expressed confidence the bilateral relationship will be fundamentally strong.

"There is a lot work to be done on both of our sides to develop some understanding and build relationships," said Hillary Clinton. "This is a new government for Japan. It is a change, which is dramatic given the 50 years of LDP governmental leadership. But I am very confident that the strength of our relationship and our alliances will stand the test of any political changes, although there will be new policies and new approaches. I think that is only to be expected."

Clinton has dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell to Japan for the Obama administration's initial high-level contacts with the new government.

Campbell held a similar post with the Defense Department in the 1990's in President Bill Clinton's administration and was involved in previous negotiations with Japan on reducing the so-called footprint of U.S. forces.

In May, before the change of governments, Japan's parliament gave final approval to an accord under which about one-third of the 25,000 U.S. troops based on Japan's southern island of Okinawa will be relocated with Japanese financial support to Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory.

The State Department said on August 31, the day after the Japanese election, that the United States had no intention of renegotiating the agreement, which was the product of years of negotiations.

Officials here have since avoided comment on the issue. Clinton in her remarks Wednesday said every government, including the Obama administration, has the right to change policies. But she said that does not affect U.S. core values and national security interests, and said she does not see that happening in Japan either.

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