Mitt Romney's comments Thursday criticizing Japan have U.S.-Japan alliance watchers on two continents worrying that the ultra-sensitive Japanese might not appreciate being the cautionary tale in Romney's campaign stump speeches and that a President Romney might not be a good steward of the decades-long relationship.
"We are not Japan," the presumptive Republican nominee told donors at a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser Thursday. "We are not going to be a nation that suffers in decline and distress for a decade or a century. We're on the cusp of a very different economic future than the one people have seen over the past three years."
Japan experts on both sides of the Pacific told The Cable that Romney's offhand assertion that Japan has been in decline for "a century" isn't a fair characterization of a nation that emerged from the ashes of World War II to build the world's second- (now third-) largest economy on a small island with few natural resources.
Moreover, they worry that Romney is needlessly insulting the face-conscious Japanese and giving them the impression that if he wins in November, his administration won't appreciate the importance of America's top alliance in the East at a time when the United States is attempting a diplomatic and military "pivot" to Asia.
"Romney seems to be on a steady streak of insulting our allies," said Japan expert Devin Stewart, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council. "Japanese are quite sensitive to statements like this. They are constantly assessing the tone of U.S. candidates relative to those made about other Asian countries. Bashing Japan is now quite passé and even tone deaf. Has Romney even visited Japan? Is he aware of the 2011 earthquake?"
Although liberal pundits such as Paul Krugman have also likened America's present economic malaise to Japan's "lost decade," this analogy doesn't hold up, Stewart said. "We aren't Japan -- that's obvious. Unlike Japan we have a growing population, robust immigration, and a fairly healthy level of inflation," he said.
Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer wrote in an op-ed Aug. 7, before Romney's Japan remarks, that Romney had missed an opportunity to embrace Japan when he visited England, Israel, and Poland last month, despite the obvious place Japan could play in a Romney foreign-policy agenda.
"For Romney to have taken an international trip that would matter, there's one place he might've considered going: Japan. Between Japan's economic efforts and its rebuilding after the tsunami and Fukushima disasters, it's an extremely relevant country to U.S. interests that would've welcomed him with open arms," Bremmer wrote.
There's also concern that the campaign isn't taking Japan seriously as it creates its foreign-policy platform. Japan watchers note that the Romney campaign website's page on "China and East Asia" doesn't even have a Japan section and mentions Japan, only in passing, as being threatened by North Korea and as a declining economic power.
"In 2010, after 30 years of dramatic growth, China surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest economy after ours," the website reads.
In Japan, the reaction to Romney's remarks has been muted, however, not necessarily because the Japanese aren't insulted but more because they are getting accustomed to occasionally being used as a talking point for foreign politicians.
"Mitt Romney seems to have a starkly different calendar that mixes ‘decade' with ‘century,'" Tomohiko Taniguchi, a professor at Keio University and former spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, told The Cable. "His now-well-known loose cannon, however, hits Japanese headlines not in too big a way as to jeopardize the alliance that has lasted six decades, during which many in Japan have gotten used to U.S. campaign rhetoric that means almost nothing."
The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
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The United States and Japan are nearing completion of a new basing agreement for U.S. troops in Okinawa, but three top senators want to make sure that Congress has a seat at the table before anything is set in stone.
"We have been advised informally that the United States and Japan are preparing to announce an agreement regarding basing issues on Okinawa and Guam as early as this Wednesday, April 25, in advance of Prime Minister Noda's coming visit to the United States," Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jim Webb (D-VA) wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today. "While we have been strongly encouraging a resolution of this complex and troubling issue, we feel compelled to emphasize that no new basing proposal can be considered final until it has the support of Congress, which has important oversight and funding responsibilities."
The 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to relocate 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and move the Futenma Air Station to a different part of Okinawa has been stalled for years due to the Tokyo government's failure to secure the buy-in of local Okinawan officials and communities for the new location of the airbase.
Last July, Levin, McCain, and Webb came out with strong objections to the plan due to the upward spiraling costs of the Guam part of the project. They added language to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act to require a independent study to rethink the whole arrangement. That study is now being conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a non-partisan Washington think tank.
The bill requires the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of relocating some of the Air Force assets at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to other bases in Japan or to Guam, and moving Marine Corps aviation assets currently at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab, another base located on Okinawa. This idea is extremely unpopular in Japan.
In February, the United States and Japan announced they would delink the troop location from the base relocation in the hopes of moving at least part of the agreement forward. The senators' letter today said that a new announcement is expected this week in advance of the Japanese prime minister's April 30 visit to Washington. According to Bloomberg, the new announcement will include a drastic scaling back of the number of troops headed to Guam, diverting about half of the 8,000 slated to leave Japan to Australia, Hawaii, or the Philippines.
The senators aren't necessarily opposed to such a plan, but say they haven't been briefed on the announcement and haven't been able to determine if the new plan addresses their concerns as laid out in the legislation last year. The independent assessment hasn't been completed, they pointed out. The bill also prevents any spending on the project until various conditions are met and those conditions have not been met, the senators wrote.
"Based on the information we have received about this emerging agreement, we have many questions that have not been fully addressed," the senators wrote. "We require additional information regarding how this proposal relates to the broader strategic concept of operations in the region, the Marine Corps' concept of operations, master plans, and alternatives to base realignments on Guam and Okinawa, as well as the positioning of U.S. Air Force units in the Asia-Pacific region. We also remain concerned about the absence of firm cost estimates informed by basing plans, an analysis of logistical requirements, and environmental studies related to this new agreement."
The senators said they were mindful of how sensitive basing issues are in the U.S.-Japanese relationship (some say the Obama administration's battles with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama contributed to Hatoyama's downfall). They also said they support a robust U.S. military presence in the region and a strong U.S.-Japanese security alliance. But they want the administration to delay the announcement nonetheless.
"We remain committed to working with the Administration to resolve this matter to the benefit of both the United States and Japan. But, for the reasons given above, it is our position that any announcement on this critical matter that goes beyond an agreement in principle at this time would be premature and could have the unintended consequences of creating more difficulties for our important alliance," they wrote.
Noda will visit the White House and meet with President Barack Obama on April 30 but he will not get a state dinner like his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.
"The President looks forward to holding discussions with the Prime Minister on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance, economic and trade issues, and deepening bilateral cooperation. The two leaders will also discuss regional and global security concerns," the White House said in a statement.
The Obama administration slapped new sanctions Thursday against one of Japan's largest organized crime groups, showing more resolve to fight Japanese organized crime than the Japanese government.
"Today's action casts a spotlight on key members of criminal organizations that have engaged in a wide range of serious crimes across the globe," said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in announcing sanctions on the Yamaguchi-gumi as well as Kenichi Shinoda, its kumicho ("godfather") and its wakagashira ("deputy godfather") Kiyoshi Takayama. "Today's designations are just the first under our new our sanctions authority to target transnational criminal organizations and isolate them from the global financial system."
The Treasury Department said that Shinoda and Takayama play key roles in directing all Yakuza activities and are involved in international drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, prostitution, fraud, and money laundering.
"Today's action is designed to protect the integrity of the U.S. financial system, to prevent U.S. financial institutions from being used unwittingly to facilitate the unlawful activities of these groups, and to deny the named individuals and entity access to the U.S. economy," Treasury said in its statement.
The sanctions represent the first concrete implementation of an executive order President Barack Obama signed last July promising to go after transnational criminal organizations.
There's only one problem: The Japanese government doesn't seem to be on board. The National Police Agency (NPA), which is in charge of organized crime, has been uncooperative with the U.S. efforts to keep the Yakuza out of the United States and does not share its database of Yakuza bosses and associates with the FBI, DEA, or Homeland Security Investigations (formerly ICE), according to Jake Adelstein, the author of Tokyo Vice, an insider's look at the Yakuza in Japan. The NPA has also rarely acted on the hundreds of tips the United States passes along about child pornography coming out of Japan.
"The Yamaguchi-gumi is the Wal-Mart of organized crime. If you count smaller Yakuza groups under their umbrella, they are more than half of the market of Japan's 79,000 Yakuza members and associates. They also support the DPJ and ruling coalition of Japan," said Adelstein, adding that the Yamaguchi-gumi has ties to Olympus and TEPCO, two firms that operate within the United States.
"The reaction of the Japanese ministry of justice and the National Police Agency to Obama's executive order last year was one of shock and shame. This latest announcement is a slap in the face of Japan, telling them to really do something about their organized crime problem, which is spilling into international waters," he said.
Without help from Japanese officials, it's difficult for the U.S. law enforcement community to get a handle on Yakuza activities. For one thing, only the Japanese government can identify Yakuza officials, because tracking them requires knowing their names, their date of birth, their faces, and the Kanji symbols -- Japanese characters -- they use to identify themselves.
But in the Japanese system, the Yakuza are legally recognized entities that operate freely and have clear links to banks, legitimate businesses, and leading politicians.
"The Yakuza exists openly in Japan with fanzines and magazines," Adelstein explained. "They are heavily involved in the stock market and there are politicians with known Yakuza ties in national politics."
That kind of institutional corruption crosses borders, bleeding heavily into the U.S. economy. The Japanese police estimate that roughly 40 percent of foreign exchange trading companies in Japan are Yakuza-affiliated.
"With so many Japanese companies invested in the U.S. and with so many American companies investing in the Japanese stock market, which is yakuza infested, it becomes a matter of U.S. national security," Adelstein said. "Because of the yakuza's deep involvement in the Japanese economy and Japan's economic ties with the U.S., the actions of the Yakuza effect the U.S. economy, therefore it's not just a Japanese problem."
While Washington grappled with the consequences of Kim Jong Il's death, the United States, Japan, and India held the first meeting of what is shaping up to be a robust trilateral dialogue -- but all sides have been quick to say that it's not aimed at isolating China.
The four-hour meeting was held at the State Department on Dec. 19, and the U.S. delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Bob Blake. Other U.S. officials in attendance included State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Affairs Peter Lavoy, and NSC Senior Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet.
The Japanese contingent was led by Koji Tsuruoka, deputy vice minister for foreign policy, who was visiting Washington with Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. The Indians flew in two officials, Joint Secretary for the Americas Jawed Ashraf and Joint Secretary for East Asia Gautam Bambawale.
Two State Department officials described the meeting for The Cable. "What I really loved about it was that it just seemed like a very natural conversation among friends," one of the officials said. "The amazing thing about our governments is that we really have shared values. That's the foundation of it all. That's the glue that binds us together."
The officials defined those shared values as democracy, human rights, rule of law, transparency, open markets, freedom of navigation, and an interest in international development work. "There wasn't a moment of dissonance in the whole thing," the official said. "The challenge now is to figure out what specifically we can focus on."
This was the first trilateral meeting between the three countries; the main objective of which was to set the foundation for future talks, discuss what issues would be on the agenda going forward, and set the goal of meeting again in Tokyo next year.
Topics that were discussed inside the meeting included Afghanistan, where Japan and India are large donors, the recent East Asia Summit, Central Asia, and Burma.
"We talked about how we can work together within all these Asian organizations to advance our shared values ... and what can do to help improve the workings of all these various fora," the State Department official said. "We agreed that we need to focus our collective efforts in Afghanistan to make sure all the values we share in Afghanistan are upheld and observed."
The U.S.-Japan-India trilateral dialogue is just the latest of the "mini-laterals" that the United States has undertaken recently. These groupings, which are smaller than often cumbersome multilateral groups, are becoming a preferred way for the United States to build consensus around policies with friends and allies.
There is another trilateral strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, and Australia that has been ongoing for five years, and now has half a dozen working groups. The United States and India have had a bilateral dialogue about East Asia for over two years now, led by Campbell and Blake. That dialogue has held four official meetings.
The State Department official said the United States is interested in setting up some "mini-lateral" structures that include China. U.S. policymakers also want to start a U.S.-India-China trilateral dialogue, the official said, but the Chinese won't sign on.
"Our Indian friends are happy to do it, we're willing to do it, but our Chinese friends are a little wary," the official said. The Japanese have also put forth the idea of a U.S.-Japan-China trilateral dialogue.
The State Department wants to be clear that this week's meetings were not about China. In fact, they said that the rise of China and how to deal with it wasn't discussed at the Dec. 19 trilateral meetings.
"We did talk about China, but it was in the context of other things," the official said. "We were actually looking for things we could do jointly with China."
Experts said that even if the trilateral dialogue wasn't about China, the fact that all three countries are cooperating in the effort to deal with China's rise looms over the discussions.
"The growing cooperation with India and Japan is driven by China's rise, there's no doubt about that. That doesn't mean it's directly aimed at China," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). "They are all trying to respond to China's rise but not antagonizing China. From China's perspective, any cooperation is encirclement."
The initial Chinese reaction to the meeting was cautious. "U.S., Japan and India are countries with great influence in the Asia-Pacific region. We hope the trilateral meeting will be conducive to regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.
Countries like India are interested in deepening their ties with China as well as the United States, but joining U.S.-brokered diplomatic architectures allows India to approach its engagement with China from a position of greater strength, said Cronin.
He also said that the effort was part of the U.S. goal of increased burden sharing with India, to offset the financial cost of maintaining the U.S. presence in East Asia.
"The U.S. is not looking to spend a fortune, it's looking to be a facilitator," he said. "It brings India into East Asia and Japan into the Indian Ocean and it does that at a very low cost to the United States."
The State Department officials acknowledged that part of the driving force behind encouraging India to take on more responsibility was to shift some of the financial responsibility to countries whose economies are on the rise.
"The Indian government, for the first time in a long time, has money. It's a country that can greatly complement U.S. efforts in the region.... This theme of them being a net provider of security takes on more significance when all of a sudden they finally have the resources to expand their role," the official said.
"The whole world has been a free-rider on the United States for so long, if the Indians can help with that in an era when we face budgetary constraints, the more the better," the official said. "The U.S. has had the luxury in the past of going it alone, but it certainly makes sense to do it with your friends."
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Northeast Asia today to meet with the man who could be the next president of China, take in some Mongolian culture, and then pay his respects to Japan, which is still recovering from the tsunami that hit the country in March.
Biden will spend four days in China, one day in Mongolia, and two days in Japan -- his first trip to Asia as vice president but his umpteenth visit as a U.S. political leader. He first traveled to China in 1979 as part of the first congressional delegation to visit after the United States and China normalized relations. The highlight of the visit will be his meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to replace Hu Jintao as president sometime next year.
"One of the primary purposes of the trip is to get to know China's future leadership, to build a relationship with Vice President Xi, and to discuss with him and other Chinese leaders the full breadth of issues in the U.S.-China relationship," said Tony Blinken, Biden's national security advisor, in a conference call with reporters. "Simply put, we're investing in the future of the U.S.-China relationship."
On Thursday, Biden will have two meetings with Xi in Beijing and a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, followed by a formal banquet hosted by Xi in the evening. On Friday, Biden will have a roundtable discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders, followed by another meeting with Wen and a meeting with Hu.
Saturday, Biden will visit the U.S. embassy in Beijing to meet with the staff and spend some time with the new U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. He will then head off for the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, becoming the first U.S. political leader to visit the city. That night, Biden and Xi will visit a high school in Dujiangyan City that was rebuilt following the 2008 earthquake.
Sichuan province, which borders Tibet, is where two Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in recent days, to protest the Chinese government's policy of suppressing Tibetan culture and "reeducating" Tibetan spiritual leaders.
"I think the vice president can be expected to reinforce the message to the Chinese that there is great value in their renewing their dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama, with the goal of peacefully resolving differences," said NSC Senior Director Danny Russel, who didn't comment directly on the recent protests.
One subject that Biden will be trying to avoid in China is the matter of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Reports yesterday said that a Pentagon team traveled to Taiwan to deliver the message that the United States will not be selling the Taipei the new F-16 C/D model fighter planes it wants, but would be willing to sell upgrades for its older A/B models.
"I think it's important to make clear that on the issue of Taiwan that the vice president has no plans to raise the Taiwan issue, certainly not arms sales during his trip. He is not going to China to address that issue," Russel said.
Of course, it's extremely likely that the Chinese will raise it, and will want to know the details of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1.
On Aug. 22, Biden goes to Mongolia, becoming the first No. 2 to visit there since Vice President Henry Wallace in 1944. Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj scored a visit to the Oval Office in June. Biden will meet with him, as well as Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold. Then, the Mongolians will put on a cultural display that will include archery, wrestling, and horse racing.
Biden leaves for Tokyo that night and will spend two days in Japan, including a visit to the earthquake damaged city of Sendai. He will meet with the embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan and visit with American troops.
The U.S. debt crisis will be one topic that will be on all Asian leaders' minds during Biden's trip. China and Japan are the top two holders of U.S. government debt, respectively. Lael Brainard, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs and the wife of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell, outlined Biden's message to Asia on America's debt.
"The vice president will be in a good position to talk about the very strong deficit reduction package that we concluded here recently. Obviously, the United States has the capacity, the will, and the commitment to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges," she said.
But Biden will also carry the message that China has to stop depending on its trade imbalance with the United States to feed its ever growing economy.
"I think as we move forward on addressing our fiscal challenges, Chinese policy makers know that they can no longer count on the U.S. consumer to provide that demand to the global economy," she said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a new bill on Friday that includes provisions to halt the Obama administration's plans to reshape the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Guam, and South Korea.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), along with Jim Webb (D-VA), called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S. military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.
Today, the committee's bill put many of those ideas in play by including them in its annual policy bill. If the bill is approved by the Senate, and if these ideas then survive negotiations with the House, the administration's already troubled plan would be placed on hold.
"The current plans for maintaining our troops there are unsustainable. They are incredibly expensive," Levin told reporters on a Friday conference call. "The costs... are out of sight and can no longer be sustained."
Specifically, the bill does four things. First, it prohibits funding the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam until the commandant of the Marine Corps provides an updated plan, and requires the defense secretary to submit a master plan to Congress detailing construction costs and schedules. Second, the bill requires the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of relocating some of the Air Force assets at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to other bases in Japan or to Guam, and moving Marine Corps aviation assets currently at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab, another base located on Okinawa. This idea is extremely unpopular in Japan.
Third, the bill would cut approximately $150 million in military construction projects requested for the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam. And fourth, the bill would prevent the obligation of any funds for "tour normalization" on the Korean Peninsula until the secretary of the Army provides Congress with a master plan to complete the program. Tour normalization is the term for allowing service members to bring their families to South Korea to create a more "normal" long-term lifestyle for them there.
In total, these moves are all a part of the senators' goal to scale back the ambitious Okinawa-Guam relocation plan and cut costs by preventing the build up of more military infrastructure in South Korea.
"These recommendations are workable, cost-effective, will reduce the burden on the Okinawan people, and will strengthen the American contribution to the security of the region," Webb said in a statement.
President Barack Obama and members of the National Security Staff rejected the senators' ideas when Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the G8 last month in France.
"The two leaders agreed that it's important for Japan to continue its efforts to follow through on the agreement of last May to implement the realignment road map on Okinawa in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements are on a solid footing as we continue to work to enhance, revitalize and modernize our alliance," NSC Senior Director Dan Russel said after the meeting.
But Levin said there was no point pretending that the current plans were either implementable or sustainable and that he was determined to use the Congress's power of the purse to force the administration to explain its plans in more detail and then change them if necessary.
"We are basically putting these changes on hold in all three places, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, while this major review is taking place," he said. "We are not withdrawing or reducing our presence, we are trying to streamline it... we do this is a way which is honest and which is sustainable."
For Levin, the move is part of his overall effort to show that his committee is budget conscious. "The problem is the current plan isn't affordable, not workable. And on the Okinawa part with Camp Schwab, it is so expensive, so massive, so unachievable, and so unwise."
Overall, the Senate bill, which was negotiated behind closed doors, would provide $682.5 billion for national defense in fiscal 2012, including $117.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $18.1 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department. The funding would be $5.9 billion less than requested for the base defense budget.
You can also read a very long summary sheet on the bill compiled by the committee.
President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had a message today for three senators who want to rethink the plan to reorganize U.S. troop presence in Japan: Thanks, but no thanks.
Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S. military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.
It's the Futenma piece of the puzzle that is most problematic for the Japanese. The plan to relocate Futenma to Camp Schwab, in northeastern Okinawa, was originally proposed in 1996 and the details were agreed to in 2006. However, no progress has been made, because the Okinawan government objected strenuously to the idea. The Futenma issue even became a major irritant in the relationship between Obama and Kan's predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.
On Thursday, the three senators touted a new GAO report they said supports their contention that the current plan is unworkable. "DOD is transforming the facilities and infrastructure that support its posture in Asia without the benefit of comprehensive cost information or an analysis of alternatives that are essential to conducting affordability analysis," the report stated.
"The GAO report underscores our concerns," Levin said in a statement. "Certain projects in Korea, Japan and Guam have gotten to the point that it is clearly in the best interests of our countries, and in the best interests of sustaining and furthering our strong alliances, to re-examine these plans and adjust them to fiscal, political and strategic realities."
But when it comes Futenma, Obama and Kan announced today after their meeting in France that they would stick to what the two countries have agreed to -- period.
"The two leaders agreed that it's important for Japan to continue its efforts to follow through on the agreement of last May to implement the realignment road map on Okinawa in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements are on a solid footing as we continue to work to enhance, revitalize and modernize our alliance," NSC Senior Director Dan Russel said after the meeting.
Okinawa issue is very challenging, but I hope Japan can make progress through
cooperation with the United States," Kan said.
Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported that Obama echoed Kan's remarks and said that, while he is aware of political difficulties over the base, he wants to improve the stability of the Japan-U.S. alliance over the medium- and long-term.
One administration official told The Cable that there's just no appetite to reopen this can of worms, and there's a lot of sensitivity inside the U.S. government about causing domestic political problems for Kan, who is struggling to keep power. Plus, the senators' plan, which would relocate Futenma to a base called Kadena, is just as likely to be unpopular with the Okinawans, the official said.
Kan also accepted Obama's offer for an "official" visit to Washington in September, but it's unlikely that Kan will get a "state visit" with a "state dinner," as did Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"I think we have yet to work out the fine points of what it will entail as a practical matter, but that he would come for an official visit in his capacity as prime minister -- not just a quick hop to Washington," Russel said.
As President Barack Obama stopped by the Japanese embassy to pay his respects to those who lost their lives in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami crisis, the State Department was scrambling to help Americans evacuate northern Japan.
"Even as Japanese responders continue to do heroic work, we know that the damage to the nuclear reactors in Fukushima Daiichi plant poses a substantial risk to people who are nearby," Obama said on Thursday in the White House Rose Garden after returning from the Japanese embassy, where he signed the condolence book. "That is why yesterday we called for an evacuation of American citizens who are within 50 miles of the plant. This decision was based upon a careful scientific evaluation and the guidelines that we would use to keep our citizens safe here in the United States or anywhere in the world."
Obama authorized the voluntary departures of family members and dependents of U.S. officials working in northeastern Japan on Wednesday night. The State Department has deployed teams around northern Japan to help any U.S. citizens who want to leave.
Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy told reporters that the first U.S. chartered flight left Japan on Thursday morning, Washington-time, as part of the State Department's new policy of aiding the departure of U.S. citizens. The plane took the citizens to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Embassy teams were at Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports sweeping for U.S. citizens who wanted to leave.
The U.S. embassy is also sending 14 buses to pick up Americans living north of the nuclear plant in Sendai province. This assistance was necessary in order to get them to the airport because of the lack of transportation in that area, Kennedy said.
Kennedy also defended the U.S. embassy's Thursday advisory that citizens should stay at least 50 miles from the reactor, which is more aggressive than the 20 kilometer no-travel zone that the Japanese government has imposed. The Defense Department has authorized departure for families of service members for the entire main Japanese island of Honshu, but State hasn't gone that far.
Kennedy said that, at present, there won't be any authorization for non-essential State or DOD personnel to leave Japan, as they are needed to aid in the crisis response.
"It is our determination that all State Department personnel -- and I believe, after some conversations I had with the Pentagon, which you can address direct to them -- that they have also determined that all employees, service members in that case, constitute emergency cadre who are needed to carry out the national security and the assistance missions and the military missions that we're engaged in," Kennedy said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services Jim Pettit said that, in addition to consular teams in both Tokyo airports, there are also consular teams searching for Americans in areas north of Tokyo, such as Miyagi, Iwate, and Ibaraki prefectures. But there won't be any search efforts inside the 50-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima reactor.
When asked if he thought that they would find Americans still inside the evacuation zone, Pettit said, "I would be surprised if we don't."
Kennedy said that the United States had an agreement with the consular teams from Canada, Britain, and Australia to report to each other if they find another's citizen in distress. To date, there are no confirmed deaths of American citizens.
He estimated there are about 90,000 Americans in and around Tokyo and about 350,000 Americans in Japan.
Obama spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday night and pledged whatever support the United States could provide.
"In the coming days, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure the safety of American citizens and the security of our sources of energy," Obama said. "And we will stand with the people of Japan as they contain this crisis, recover from this hardship and rebuild their great nation."
Before the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 10, one of the biggest news stories in Tokyo was then State Department Director of Japan Affairs Kevin Maher's alleged remarks disparaging Okinawans for their stance on the relocation of a U.S. air base on the island. Maher was removed his post due to the controversy, but nevertheless has been working around the clock to help lead the U.S. government's response to the crisis.
Inside the "Operations Center" on the 7th floor of the State Department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom, the Japan Earthquake Task Force is working 24 hours a day to coordinate U.S. assistance to the stricken area and keep lines of communication open between U.S. government agencies, foreign governments, and non-governmental organizations on the ground. Maher is the coordinator for the night shift (daytime in Japan), and has been working from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night since the quake hit.
Maher was removed as director of the Japan office at State on March 9, following reports that he told a group of American University (AU) students that Okinawan people were masters of "extortion," but he was not fired and it was never proven that he made the incendiary comments. Maher has denied the accuracy of the press reports regarding his comments. According to State Department sources, he planned to retire following the controversy, but has now put off that retirement to contribute to the earthquake response, which could last for a while.
Maher is uniquely qualified to help in the response, and not just because he led the Japan Affairs office until the day before the quake. He has served in Japan multiple times during his career, and was the U.S. embassy's minister-counselor for environment, science and technology affairs in Tokyo from 2001 to 2005, during which time he covered the nuclear industry.
Ironically, Maher's experience as consul in Okinawa from 2006 to 2009 might also come in handy. Maher's alleged remarks to the AU students spoke to the frustration of both U.S. and Japanese officials about the plan to relocate the Marine Corps air base in Futenma to a different part of Okinawa's main island. Many Okinawans oppose having a base on the island at all.
But as it turns out, the Futenma air base has been active in supporting the earthquake relief response, including deploying helicopters to aid in search and recovery of victims of the devastating tsunami.
The State Department's task force is made up of 14 people representing various bureaus and offices throughout the administration. Their job is to coordinate the U.S. government and military response and serve as the central point of contact for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other principals, while, acting as the main communication link to the U.S. embassy in Japan.
The coordinator for the day shift is Rust Deming, a professor of Japan studies at Johns Hopkins and a former ambassador to Tunisia, who stepped in to head up the State Department's Japan office when Maher stepped down last week. Deming has held much more senior positions, so his reappearance in the East Asian and Pacific (EAP) bureau is seen as a temporary step to draw upon his expertise until a full-time replacement can be found.
USAID also has established a Response Management Team (RMT) on the 9th floor of its headquarters in downtown Washington's Ronald Reagan building, headed by Mark Bartolini, which is tasked with supporting USAID's disaster and assistance response team (DART) on the ground in Japan and with coordinating the humanitarian side of the U.S. government assistance effort.
For close observers of the U.S.-Japan relationship, the Maher incident shows that more needs to be done to build trust between officials on both sides to ensure that smaller issues don't get blown out of proportion such that larger cooperation suffers, especially in an emergency.
"The alliance managers showed a lack of courage by throwing [Maher] under the bus," and removing him from his post, one Washington Japan expert told The Cable. "But now they realize they need all Japan hands on deck for this crisis."
The State Department, the Defense Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are sending emergency assistance to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster, while a host of agencies work to mitigate the collateral damage in Hawaii and the West Coast.
"I'm heartbroken by this tragedy," President Barack Obama said at his Friday press conference. "On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed."
Obama was awoken at 4 a.m. Friday morning with the news that the 8.9 magnitude earthquake had struck off the shore of Japan, near the island of Honshu. The president spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan shortly thereafter. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos spoke with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and moved U.S. embassy personnel to a new location as a precaution.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs told reporters Friday that there are no reports yet of U.S. citizens killed or injured by the disaster, but that State has set up a task force and citizens in Japan can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. U.S. citizens in need outside Japan should write to email@example.com. The State Department also issued a travel alert advising U.S. citizens not to visit Japan.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was in Tokyo on Wednesday when the first "foreshock," which was a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, struck. However, he was in Mongolia when the big quake hit at 2:36 p.m. Tokyo time on Thursday afternoon.
USAID has taken lead on the international crisis response, and is sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Japan. It is also coordinating the dispatch of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team and the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Team, both of which responded in conjunction with USAID to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Each USAR team will have about 72 people, some dogs, 75 tons of rescue equipment, and USAID disaster experts in tow.
"We are working with the government of Japan to provide any assistance needed in the rescue effort as quickly as possible," USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said in a statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the President's Export Council Friday that the U.S. military delivered coolant to a nuclear plant in Japan. The Japanese government has declared an "atomic power emergency" at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
"We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants," Clinton said. "You know Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," Clinton said.
No major damage has been reported to U.S. naval forces stationed in Yokosuka. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were responding to the crisis in the following ways: "The USS Tortuga in Sasebo, Japan, is preparing to load landing craft and to leave for the disaster areas as early as this evening. The USS Essex, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, this morning. The ship is preparing to depart as early as this evening. The USS Blue Ridge, in Singapore, is taking on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies and preparing to depart tomorrow morning. The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, at sea in the western Pacific on its way to Korea, can respond if directed."
"I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami," Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in Bahrain, said in a statement. "As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."
Back in the United States, the response is being led by FEMA in coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and the NOAA National Weather Service. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said on a conference call that FEMA had dispatched an emergency team to Hawaii.
Dave Applegate, senior science advisor for earthquakes and geologic hazards at USGS, said that waves peaked in Hilo, Hawaii at around 9 a.m. local time and should have died down by now. Crescent City Harbor, CA saw waves of about 8 feet at around noon. While no substantial damage was reported on the west coast of the United States, the damage in Japan is massive.
"Economic losses are estimated to be in the tens of billions, just from the shaking alone, not the tsunami," Applegate said, explaining that the force of the earthquake was equal to 30 times the strength of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
The quake broke a segment of the plate boundary between the Pacific plate and an extension of the North American plate and more aftershocks are expected. There's a 5 percent chance the aftershocks could be even worse than Thursday's quake, Applegate said.
"They will continue for not just days but weeks and months or even years."
For a list of ways to contribute to the aid effort in Japan, click here.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reported late Friday that Clinton misspoke and that the Japanese had politely declined the U.S. offer to bring nuclear coolant to the Fukushima power plant.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is already the subject of one controversy today due to remarks he made about the treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. But Crowley is also in trouble due to a tweet he sent out this morning -- and later deleted -- comparing the situation in the Middle East to the disaster in Japan.
"We've been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan," Crowley tweeted Friday morning, a State Department official confirmed to The Cable. Crowley's Twitter site no longer includes the tweet, suggesting that he deleted it after the fact. Crowley didn't immediately respond to a request from The Cable.
Multiple administration sources told The Cable that the Defense Department leadership was very upset with Crowley about both incidents.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama was asked at his Friday press conference if he agreed with Crowley's statements at MIT on Thursday that Manning's treatment by the Defense Department was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Obama said that he had personally asked the Pentagon if the conditions imposed on Manning were really necessary.
"They assured me that they are," Obama said. He wouldn't go into detail but added that, "some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety."
Reached by The Cable, Crowley confirmed that he did in fact make the remarks. "What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning," he said.
What seemed like a routine visit to the State Department by a group of college students last December has now become a thorn in the side of the U.S.-Japan relationship and cost the State Department's Japan desk director his job.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell just happened to be landing in Tokyo on Wednesday as the controversy over remarks about Okinawa allegedly made by Director of Japan Affairs Kevin Maher to a visiting group of American University students reached a fever pitch across Japan. Campbell's apology as he stepped off the plane was only the first of several he's going to be making about the controversy while in Tokyo.
"I will, in all of my meetings, offer deep apologies for the developments in Okinawa and for the misunderstandings that have taken place. I think as you all know, the alleged statements in no way reflect U.S. government policy, or indeed the deep feelings of the American people towards the people of Okinawa," Campbell said. "We are deeply saddened by these recent developments and I will in all of my meetings express deep regret for the misunderstandings that have taken place. These statements not only reflect my own personal attitudes, but the attitudes of the American government."
Campbell was referring to the controversy over a December meeting at the State Department between Maher and a group of students who asked for a briefing before taking a trip to Okinawa. One of the students gave the Japanese press a memo of notes from the meeting, which stated that Maher said that the Okinawan people were masters of "manipulation" and "extortion" when dealing with U.S.-Japanese plans to relocate the Marine Corps' Futenma air base to another part of the main Okinawan island.
"By pretending to seek consensus, people try to get as much money as possible. Okinawans are masters of ‘manipulation' and ‘extortion' of Tokyo," Maher allegedly said, according to the memo of the off-the-record briefing. The memo also accuses Maher of calling Okinawan politicians liars and saying the Okinawan people are lazy, have social problems, and often drive drunk.
Maher told Japan's Kyodo news that the memo was not accurate and contained several misrepresentations about what he said. Nevertheless, a State Department official confirmed to The Cable that Maher will step down from his job as head of the Japan desk immediately and be given another role at the State Department, as a result of the national uproar in Japan about the alleged remarks.
What Maher didn't know at the time of his meeting was that this was no ordinary group of American University students. One leader of the group was a Japanese activist who works hard to build opposition to any U.S. basing on Okinawa. That activist, Sayo Saruta, was one of two student leaders for the group of mostly American AU students and participated in the meeting at the State Department. Maher didn't know that the group was led by an anti-base activist until the memo was leaked this week.
The State Department could have known Saruta's agenda had they just done a little research. She is a very public critic of U.S. military bases in Japan. The website for the students' Japan trip identifies her as "the leader of the Network for Okinawa, an organization calling for the closure of bases in Okinawa."
Saruta also works with the website closethebase.org, which is run with help from the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal foreign policy think tank in Washington, DC. John Feffer, who works at IPS and is co-director of their Foreign Policy in Focus project, told The Cable that the purpose of the Network for Okinawa "was to have a U.S. counterpart for the activists in Okinawa."
Feffer said he didn't know if Maher's remarks were reported accurately but he said that if they were, they were an "expression of frustration among U.S. government officials about the consistent opposition by Okinawans to any plan to relocate the Futenma base on Okinawa and frustration with the Japanese government for not moving more quickly."
The original idea to relocate the base was agreed to in 1996 and the plan to do it was signed by both governments in 2006. Since then, the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan since World War II, fell to a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which hasn't been able or willing to confront local Okinawan politicians on the issue.
"For the most part the U.S. government hasn't really cared what the politics are in Okinawa. They've worked through Tokyo and expect the Tokyo government to take care of the situation, which hasn't happened," Feffer said.
The Obama administration came in hoping to work with the DPJ on the Futenma issue, but cooperation and top-level relations broke down in late 2009 when then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised the Japanese he would move the base off of Okinawa and then reversed himself.
"There is always some level of opposition to U.S.-Japan proposals for realigning bases on Okinawa. It is much worse now because Hatoyama raised and then dashed expectations in a way that made a difficult problem even harder," said Michael Green, who was the NSC's senior director for Asia during the Bush administration. He defended Maher, who was the head consular official in Okinawa from 2006 to 2009.
"Maher is a veteran Japan hand who knows the politics of Okinawa better than just about anyone. It sounds like this was an ambush and his comments were selectively distorted to suit the agenda of the event organizers, though perhaps he should have seen that coming given the audience," said Green. "In any case, the real fault is with the Japanese press for trying to manufacture a crisis out of an off-the-record discussion with students."
Japan expert Mindy Kotler, who directs the organization Asia Policy Point, said that both sides are to blame. U.S. officials often talk insensitively about the Okinawan objections to the base and Okinawans often blow such comments widely out of proportion.
Nevertheless, the incident illustrates that the small cadre of U.S. government officials and experts who have been dealing with Japan for years is not tuned in to the rising level of frustration in Japan about American policy and the growing momentum of the anti-base movement both in Japan and around the world, she said.
"There's no reason that Maher should have gone into that room thinking this was just another group of average college kids," Kotler said.
"Instead of getting upset of what he did or did not say we should focus on where the frustration comes from. The alliance managers have not done enough to try to understand what's behind the changing politics in Japan and how to adapt."
Several senior Obama administration Asia officials are set to either leave government or move to new jobs within the bureaucracy in the coming months, as the White House tries to hit the reset button on U.S.-China relations.
As part of a cautious warming of U.S.-China relations in the early days of President Barack Obama's term, his administration elected to postpone arms sales to Taiwan and a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2009. Beijing was pleased, but that evaporated when the arms sales went through in January 2010 and the visit went ahead in February 2010. That month, China responded by breaking off U.S.-China military-to-military relations.
China's aggressive stance on a range of issues, such as its claimed of sovereignty over the South China Sea, as well as Beijing's de facto defense of North Korean bad behavior, contributed to a worsening of ties. China was also seen to have worked against U.S. goals at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2010, resisted efforts to place strong new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council, and declined to heed U.S. calls for a significant revaluation of its undervalued currency.
The Obama administration changed its stance toward China to a more competitive posture in response, codifying this policy shift during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' trip to Southeast Asia last May and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Vietnam in August. Recognizing China's increasingly aggressive diplomatic stance, the administration decided to set clearer red lines and step up its collaboration with regional allies to address their concerns about increased Chinese influence.
The United States has also joined regional organizations, such as the East Asia Summit, which signaled increased U.S. attention to the region. It has also successfully shored up its ties with South Korea and Vietnam after lull in those relationships during the Bush administration. Relations with Japan have not gone as well, but Japanese politics have been in upheaval pretty much since Obama took office.
The two top Obama administration officials responsible for driving this policy have been NSC Senior Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell. Although Campbell is generally seen as more hawkish on China than Bader, the two close friends have worked together from day one.
But sometime after Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington this month, Bader will leave his post at the NSC, several administration insiders confirmed to The Cable. The exact date of Bader's departure is not set, and could still be weeks or months from now. Bader, who has been working on China since the 1970s (and was once an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Richard Holbrooke), is rumored to be looking for the exit due to the understandable fatigue caused by working a job that has basically required a 24/7 commitment for almost two years.
The leading candidate to replace Bader, according to several administration sources, is the NSC's Daniel Russel, one of the directors who currently works under Bader. Russell is a Japan hand, having served as the head of State's Japan Desk after being consul general in the Japanese cities of Osaka and Kobe. Russell's selection might give Japan watchers hope that the White House would reinvigorate the stagnant U.S.-Japan relationship, but the likelihood is that China will continue to dominate the administration's Asia agenda going forward.
The other contenders for Bader's post are Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, Michael Schiffer, another DAS-D who works with Mitchell, and Frank Jannuzi, policy director for East Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mitchell, a top Asia hand who worked with Campbell at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is said to be looking to move because the PDAS position he holds is more focused on management than policy. Schiffer, who spent 9 years on the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has been intimately involved in a variety of issues related to Asia policy and would be able to move into the post seamlessly, Asia hands said. Jannuzi, who was a top Obama campaign foreign policy advisor, is close to the Biden team and could also be a good fit with the current Biden-heavy leadership at the NSC.
Meanwhile, back at State, there are other moves in the works. Campbell's principal deputy Joe Donovan is being considered for a number of different ambassadorships, including as the next envoy to South Korea. He would replace longtime foreign service officer Kathleen Stephens. If the White House decides to give that post to a political appointee (traditionally, Seoul has gone to a career diplomat), then Donovan would probably be offered the ambassadorship of Cambodia, multiple administration sources confirmed.
The White House announced last month that David Shear, another deputy in Campbell's EAP bureau, will be appointed ambassador to Vietnam. So that leaves two open DAS slots at EAP for Campbell to fill. The principal deputy must be a career bureaucrat, but the question remains whether Campbell will return to the tradition of having one political appointee as a deputy when he fills Shear's slot.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg has been rumored to be leaving State for a long time now, but still remains at his post and is very active on Asia policy. Our sources report that Steinberg had originally told the White House he would only stay for two years, but has not yet found the right job to justify him leaving State.
Back at the Pentagon, changes are expected sooner rather than later at the Asia Pacific office run by Assistant Secretary Chip Gregson. A shuffle in the leadership of that office would not come as a surprise to anyone, but many say that decision is on hold until there's some clarity as to when Gates will leave -- and who will replace him.
Besides Campbell, one of the only senior Obama administration Asia officials not thought to be leaving imminently is U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Despite some reports that he is eyeing a presidential run, administration officials said they haven't seen signs that he is planning to leave Beijing any time soon, and praised his work on U.S.-China relations. More on that tomorrow...
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departed Wednesday morning on her sixth trip to Asia, where she will visit seven countries over 13 days and meet with scores of officials and other regional actors. The highlights of the trip will be Clinton's participation in the East Asia Summit in Hanoi and a meeting with her Chinese Foreign Ministry counterpart on Hainan Island, made infamous by the April 2001 diplomatic tussle over the crash landing of a U.S. surveillance plane.
"It's a very complicated and, frankly, lengthy trip," Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters Tuesday. "At every stop, the Secretary will highlight both political and economic interactions, a desire to promote U.S. exports and see a more forward engagement on economic matters."
Wednesday morning, Clinton departed Washington and headed to Hawaii, where she will first meet with military officials including Pacific Fleet Chief of Staff Rear Adm. Joseph Walsh and Adm. Robert Willard, the head of Pacific Command. Following that she will have what Campbell called a "substantial, intense interaction" with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara that will cover "all aspects of our bilateral relationship."
Thursday, Clinton will give a "major address" on U.S. strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region at the East West Center. In addition to setting the stage for Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington (we're hearing January), the G-20 meetings next month in Seoul, and the APEC meeting next year in Japan, Clinton's speech will explain that "at the economic level, 2011 is emerging as a very consequential, in many respects make-or-break, year for the United States," Campbell said. Following that, Clinton will stop in Guam to visit U.S. troops.
On Friday Oct. 29, Clinton goes to Hanoi, where the United States is joining for the first time the East Asia Summit, with an eye toward membership in the near future. On Saturday, she will make a presentation there as "a guest of the chair." There are several bilateral meetings planned, including a conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. She will also participate in the Lower Mekong Initiative meeting and meet with Indian and Russian interlocutors, Campbell said.
Sometime during her stay in Vietnam, Clinton will take a quick trip to Hainan Island, China, to meet with State Counselor Dai Bingguo. "At that session, we will review the various issues in the U.S.-China relationship, make sure that we're making adequate preparations for both the upcoming G-20 meeting, APEC, and particularly for the session that will take place in January when Hu Jintao will visit the United States, or in early part of 2011," Campbell said.
On Saturday Oct. 30, she moves on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. She will visit Angkor Wat on Sunday and meet King Norodom Simahoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Monday. Clinton will then head to Malaysia on to meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet. "I think you will see the flourishing U.S.-Malaysian relationship on full display," Campbell predicted. This will be Clinton's first visit to both countries as secretary of state.
On Wednesday, Nov. 3, the team goes Papua New Guinea to meet Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and other senior government officials, women leaders, and environmental experts. The next stop is New Zealand, where Clinton will meet with senior government officials, including Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCull. There the two sides will announce the so-called Wellington Declaration, "which will underscore our desire to see U.S.-New Zealand relations return to a significance in terms of coordination on a range of issues," said Campbell.
On Saturday, Nov. 6, Clinton will travel to Australia to join Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith in Melbourne for the 25th anniversary of the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) to discuss regional and global security issues. Secretary Clinton will also meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She returns to Washington Monday, Nov. 8, with a final stop in American Samoa.
"We often talk about stepping up our game in the Asian Pacific region. In that formulation, the A gets a lot more attention than the P, the Pacific. You will note on this particular trip that the Secretary will be stopping in three Pacific islands," Campbell said. "This will be the longest trip of her tenure to date."
The South Korean government announced a series of sanctions against Iran on Tuesday after intensive lobbying from the Obama administration.
The new measures, which target Iran's energy and banking sectors as well as specific Iranian bad actors, follow similar moves by Japan last week. They are also in line with measures imposed by the European Union last month, though not quite as extensive as the administration had proposed to Seoul.
Regardless, the administration and members of Congress who are pushing for countries to put more pressure on Iran hailed the announcement, noting that South Korea moved forward despite the potential cost to its domestic industries.
"I know that this was not an easy or cost-free decision for the ROK government, either politically or economically. But it is precisely Seoul's willingness to shoulder rather than shirk its international responsibilities that confirms the Republic of Korea's emergence as a global leader," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, in a statement.
Japan has the third largest economy in the world, South Korea ranks as the eleventh largest, and both countries have major business interests in Iran -- especially in the energy sector. The new measures would prevent the initiation of any new joint business ventures but allow existing projects to continue.
For the administration and its allies in Congress, the South Korean and Japanese sanctions announcements reaffirm their strategy of using the U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran, which was passed on June 9, as a framework for taking additional steps aimed at convincing Iran to address the international community's concerns about its nuclear program.
The coordination is a positive sign of cooperation between Washington and its two most important East Asian allies. At the same time, Iran watchers note that Beijing stands to profit if Chinese companies move to fill the demand gap created by the South Korean and Japanese sanctions.
Lieberman is warning that if Beijing undermines the new sanctions, Congress will move to enforce sanctions against Chinese companies using authorities provided in the recent U.S. sanctions legislation.
"Chinese companies have unfortunately in the past been allowed by their government to pursue their commercial self-interest in Iran, exploiting the restraint of other countries," Lieberman said. "If this trend continues, China will isolate itself from the responsible international community in Asia and around the world."
Behind the scenes, State Department and Treasury officials had been working hard to encourage the South Korean and Japanese governments to adoptthe strongest measures possible. This effort has been led by Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control.
Einhorn and the NSC's Daniel Glaser traveled to Tokyo and Seoul last month, and a Congressional staff delegation visiting Seoul and Tokyo last week also was partially focused on the push for strong sanctions language.
National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers, the NSC's Tom Donilon, Asia Senior Director Jeffrey Bader, and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell were in Beijing last weekend and the topic of Iran sanctions was also on their agenda.
The main hub of Iranian financial activity in South Korea is the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, a Tehran-based bank that has already been targeted by both the United States and the European Union. South Korea only agreed to a 60-day suspension of Korean dealings with Bank Mellat Seoul, with a promise to reevaluate after. Washington had wanted a total freeze.
Iran watchers on Capitol Hill said the temporary suspension would have the desired effect by making it clear to investors they should not do business with Bank Mellat in Seoul.
"The fact is they are taking action against Bank Mellat and they are embedding this action within a broad framework of other actions," said one GOP Senate aide. "It's very possible that everybody and their brother is going to run for the exits... that bank is going to be kryptonite."
Levey and Einhorn have also been working hard on the recently announced new U.S. sanctions on North Korea, a topic in which both Japan and South Korea have a vital interest. Aides said that, while the two efforts weren't directly linked, there are indirect links in that Iran and North Korea are involved in some of the same illicit activities.
"There is a tie in the sense that North Korea and Iran actively cooperate on a range of illicit proliferation-related activities," said one Congressional staffer close to the issue. "That's a linkage that both the Koreans and the Japanese recognize and appreciate."
UPDATE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also praised the new sanctions and saw them as a message to China. He tweeted, "Korea adopted strong new sanctions on Iran today. Japan did the same last week. China should follow their good example of global leadership."
During President Obama's trip to Canada this weekend for the G-8 and G-20 meetings on global economic reform, the real action will be taking place in his meetings with several top Asian leaders on the sidelines of the events.
"We also want to use these meetings as an opportunity to underscore America's commitment to leadership and increased engagement in Asia," said a senior administration official about the trip. "We see this is an opportunity to continue our efforts to renew our leadership in Asia."
Five out of the six precious bilateral meetings Obama will grant over the weekend will go to leaders from East Asian countries. After the first meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Toronto, his one-on-ones will be with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and the new Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan.
"That is, I think, an eloquent demonstration of the importance that the president attaches to Asia, the importance of Asia to our political security and economic interest," another senior administration official said.
For the Korea bilat, the sinking of the Cheonan will be at the top of the agenda. The U.N. debate over how to reprimand North Korea for sinking the ship is going on now and strategies for finishing that effort need to be discussed.
With the Chinese president, Obama will likely follow up on the slight change China made to its currency policy this week. Congress isn't quite yet satisfied with the move and is still pressing legislation, so Obama needs to find out whether Hu intends to go further.
In a blistering New York Times column Friday, Princeton University economist Paul Krugman argued that China's currency adjustment was "basically a joke" and called on Beijing to "stop giving us the runaround and deliver real change" or face trade sanctions.
Obama may also want to raise Beijing's refusal to resume military-to-military dialogue, as shown most dramatically when China refused to let U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visit last month when he was traveling in the region.
"It's our view and it's the president's view that military-to-military relations between the U.S. and China are in China's interest and in the U.S.'s interest," the senior administration official said. "This is not a favor that either side does to the other."
"We believe they should be continuous and should not be subject to ups and downs based on events in the relationship," he said, a reference to the administration's decision to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan over Beijing's vociferous objections, as well as Chinese anger over Obama's welcoming of the Dalai Lama in February.
With Japan's Kan, Obama's mission is to make nice and get off to a better start than he did with ousted Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The Kan administration definitely seems to be on board with that idea and the White House is sending the message that, as far as the United States is concerned, the dispute over the Futenma air station on Okinawa is settled.
"Prime Minister Kan has made clear that he endorses the agreement that we reached on basing in Okinawa. He does not question it, and he's looking to strengthen the alliance," the senior administration official said.
Obama is scheduled to visit India, Japan, and Korea on a trip in November, so the meetings are also meant to prepare for that as well. No word yet on whether Indonesia will be added as a stop.
The new acting secretary general of Japan's ruling party took time out of a heated campaign to visit Washington briefly Friday night, to deliver the message that the Obama administration no longer has to worry about the Japanese government's commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance.
In what several observers called his "reassurance tour," rising star Goshi Hosono spoke to a group of experts and officials at a dinner hosted by the Center for a New American Security, the culminating event of the think tank's two-day conference on U.S.-Japan relations. Hosono took over the position when former Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa stepped down along with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama last month.
Hosono was forceful, even aggressive, in describing the importance of the security relationship between the world's top two economies and the need for Japan to take a larger and more active role in regional security operations.
He spoke about working toward a "close and equal" U.S.-Japan alliance and pledged to work to "deepen" the alliance through a "functional expansion of its powers."
"The alliance must serve not only as a public good in bringing stability to the region, but it must also play an active, problem solving role in regard to a number of pressing issues," he said.
The decline of U.S. naval power presents an opportunity for Japan to be more involved in maritime security, Hosono said, including participating in operations to protect sea lanes.
Hosono addressed directly the poor relationship Hatoyama had with President Obama. That relationship soured when Hatoyama asked Obama to "trust" him on the issue of the Futenma Marine corps base on Okinana. Obama felt that Hatoyama betrayed that trust, leading to a cooling of the relationship at the highest levels.
"There are many people in the room who are not sure whether [Prime Minister Naoto] Kan is trustworthy. We feel in Japan that through his leadership, we can trust him," Hosono said.
The Obama administration saw chaos in the Japanese decision making in the Hatoyama administration, but Hosono promised this would also be addressed by the new government. He said there will be a "firm control tower" inside the cabinet, made up of by Prime Minister Kan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, and the General Secretary of the party Yukio Edano.
He promised to stick to the deal that Hatoyama finally struck with Washington over Futenma and pledged to focus on "reducing the burden" on Okinawa residents while sticking to the agreement.
As for whether the Obama administration's tough stance on the Futenma base contributed to Hatoyama's downfall, Hosono said that actually, it did.
"This a large issue for those of us who are politicians," he said. "The reason that the Hatoyama administration could not continue was not because this issue was of such strong interest in the domestic sphere, but that it grew to be a large foreign policy issue that made the administration vulnerable."
Josh Rogin / Foreign Policy
Now that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has fallen on his sword, and the United States Japan have an opportunity to "reset" their relationship, which suffered due to the personal discord between Hatoyama and President Obama and the lingering dispute over a base in Okinawa. But will they take it?
For now, the battle over the Futenma air station seems to be tabled, with the new prime minister, Naoto Kan, pledging to largely stick to the deal struck in 2006. But there are lingering doubts as to whether either Washington or Tokyo is ready to revamp the rest of the alliance, which needs an update as it crosses the 50-year threshold.
So far, Kan seems to be sounding the right notes.
"The new prime minister has done everything possible to underscore the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance," an administration official close to the issue told The Cable. "This is a very complex set of interactions but we're reassured by what we've heard so far from Prime Minister Kan."
Japan hands in Washington note that Kan, in his swearing-in remarks, affirmed the U.S.-Japan alliance as "the cornerstone" of his country's diplomacy and pledged to honor the 2006 agreement. But Kan also said he would place equal emphasis on improving ties with China.
That struck many in Washington as a sign that the Democratic Party of Japan, which took power last year for the first time, is still hedging against what party leaders see as an Obama administration that just isn't giving Japan the respect and attention it feels it deserves.
As for the recent cooling in relations, "I don't think it's over, but a change in leadership is a chance to reset," said Randall Schriver, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia. The U.S. problem with Hatoyama was personal, based on his style and inability to meet his own deadlines, resulting in a lack of trust, Schriver said.
"Japan's a democracy and Hatoyama brought himself down," said Devin Stewart, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
So is everything OK now that Kan is in charge?
Not exactly. The new prime minister's comments on China suggest that Washington and Tokyo aren't yet on the same page regarding larger issues of security, economics, and diplomacy.
"The relationship is bigger than Futenma, but that's all we talked about," Schriver said. "So somebody has to raise this to the next level and start to talk about the broader regional issues and that's got to be us."
Kan's not likely to take the lead on trying to revamp the alliance, mainly because he has to focus on Japan's economy and keeping his party's control of the parliament.
"Prime Minister Kan is treading on the eggshells left behind by Hatoyama," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security, the think tank founded by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. "He has to carry his party into uncertain July elections whose outcome may determine the next ruling coalition, the next cabinet, and possibly even the next steps on military basing."
And Kan has every reason not to want to reopen the Futenma issue, which Hatoyama seemed to resolve just before he resigned.
"The tough decision had been made," said Tobias Harris, former DPJ staffer and author of the blog Observing Japan. "Now all Kan has to do is say that he stands by the status quo and hope that Okinawan resistance gradually loses steam as the two governments hammer out the details."
Some Japan experts in Washington lament that the DPJ is still not getting a lot of respect in Washington. At a conference this week being hosted by CNAS, the theme of alliance renewal is front and center.
But will new ideas get a fair hearing?
Not only are there no Okinawans invited, the one DPJ lawmaker speaking is Akihisa Nagashima, a powerful lawmaker for sure, but also a well-known hawk with long ties to the Washington "alliance managers" who still hold the reins of the relationship.
"It's clear that the voices of a ‘status quo' U.S.-Japan security relationship will get the most air time at this meeting," argues the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons.
As Asia hands gawk at the news that Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has resigned, there is a lot of talk that the Obama administration contributed to his downfall by refusing to give ground on the issue of how to move the Futenma air station, a regionally important but locally unpopular U.S. Marine air base in Okinawa.
The Washington Note's Steve Clemons was among the first to put blame squarely on Obama, not just for failing to show flexibility in reaction to Hatoyama's attempts to alter the 2006 base deal, which was signed by a previous Japanese government, but also because of the arms-length attitude the U.S. president displayed personally toward his Japanese counterpart.
"Barack Obama put huge pressure on Hatoyama, asking him ‘Can I trust you?' He has maintained an icy posture towards Hatoyama, hardly communicating with him or agreeing to meetings - making the Prime Minister ‘lose face,'" Clemons wrote.
It's true that Obama and senior administration officials had sour relations with Hatoyama at the highest levels. But on the working levels, U.S. officials insist, there actually was a determined effort to resolve the dispute over the base in a way that both sides could defend domestically.
Those efforts included giving Hatoyama's government eight months to figure out how to come around to accepting the bulk of the U.S. proposal and offering him some flexibility so that he could argue to Okinawans that their concerns had been addressed.
But in end, the Obama administration sees Hatoyama's downfall as one of his own making, because he failed to manage the expectations of his electorate while also piling on with domestic scandals galore. U.S. officials are hoping the next Japanese prime minister has learned that demonizing the trans-Pacific alliance is a losing proposition.
Behind the scenes, there was another dynamic at play. Hatoyama was trying to reorient the private interactions between Tokyo and Washington, seeking to break what he saw as a stranglehold on the relationship by a select number of Washington Japan hands and their allies both in the former ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and within his own Democratic Party of Japan. He also sought to develop closer ties to China, a prospect many in Washington viewed with concern, albeit tempered with confidence that Beijing would ultimately prove an unworkable partner for Tokyo.
Hatoyama sent envoys, such as Sen. Kuniko Tanioka, to Washington to try to create alternate channels of communication. But those efforts were neither coordinated nor skilled enough to have real traction.
Meanwhile, the Japan hands who have been managing the alliance for decades engaged the Hatoyama government, but still kept up their strong contacts with their LDP and DPJ friends who had a more conventional view of the relationship.
"The DPJ ascendance was a symbol of the changing Japan," said Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, a Japan-focused non-governmental organization. "The problem in Washington is that there is LDP nostalgia. We should be focused on building up this new generation and we should be more supportive of a more equal relationship between Japan and U.S."
Kotler said that the Obama administration didn't intentionally undermine Hatoyama, but didn't help him much either.
"There's no reason they couldn't have been more flexible and giving him more political space on Okinawa," she said. "They did a terrible public relations job of explaining that the U.S. military does actually contribute there."
Obama administration officials emphatically stress that a vibrant, two-party democracy in Japan, as represented by the success of the DPJ, is in U.S. interests. But they don't want the U.S.-Japan alliance to be the political football that Japanese politicians kick around as they jostle for domestic positioning.
As for Hatoyama himself, many in Washington are perfectly happy to see him go. He is likely to be replaced by Naoto Kan, the current finance minister. Kan is not exactly a champion of the U.S. alliance, but analysts say he may cede national-security issues to Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who is highly regarded.
"The Obama administration played it right because they got the agreement, Hatoyama is gone, and we'll get a new leader who is better on this issue and will be ready to move on to other issues," said Daniel Twining, senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund.
Kotler argues that whether or not the Okinawa issue is actually resolved, the Japanese political atmosphere will continue to change, and the U.S. approach to Japan must change with it.
"It's a pyrrhic victory and there's still lack of demonstrated understanding that there has been change in Japan," she said. "The overall problem has not gone away."
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's special briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Senior Coordinator for China Affairs at the Department of Treasury David Loevinger:
When Barack Obama met briefly with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on the sidelines of last month's nuclear summit, he asked the Japanese leader to follow through on his promise to resolve the U.S.-Japan dispute over relocating the Marine Corps base on Okinawa.
But as Hatoyama's self-imposed May deadline approaches, it doesn't look like the prime minister is going to be able to deliver, and some Japanese lawmakers are now going public with their criticism of the way the Obama administration has handled the issue.
One of them is Kuniko Tanioka, a member of Japan's upper house of parliament and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, and a close advisor to Hatoyama. During a visit to Washington Tuesday, Tanioka leveled some of the harshest criticism from a Japanese official to date of the Obama team's handling of the Futenma issue, which is still unresolved despite months of discussions.
"We are worried because the government of the United States doesn't seem to be treating Prime Minister Hatoyama as an ally," she told an audience at the East-West Center. "The very stubborn attitude of no compromise of the U.S. government on Futenma is clearly pushing Japan away toward China and that is something I'm very worried about."
Some Japan hands in Washington see Tanioka as marginal, a left-wing backbencher who just recently entered Japanese politics in 2007. But she is close to Hatoyama and serves as the "vice manager" for North America inside the DPJ's internal policy structure.
At issue is a 2006 agreement between the Bush administration and the former Japanese government run by the Liberal Democratic Party. That agreement would have moved the Futenma Air Station, which sits in the middle of a populated area of Okinawa, to a less obtrusive part of the island.
Hatoyama and the DPJ campaigned on the promise to alter the plan but ran into a wall when U.S. officials initially insisted the old agreement be honored, even though the old government had been thrown out.
Since then, Pentagon and State Department officials have been conducting quiet negotiations, but the administration is still waiting for the Japanese side to propose a detailed alternative to the current plan.
Meanwhile, huge protests in Okinawa have constrained Hatoyama's room for maneuver -- and Tanioka said the United States was partly to blame.
"It seems to us Japanese that Obama is saying ‘You do it, you solve, it's your problem,'" she said, noting that public opinion polls in Japan show increasing dissatisfaction with the presence of U.S. military forces there.
Obama should have granted Hatoyama a bilateral meeting during the recent nuclear summit if he is really concerned about Futenma, she said, not just a passing conversation at dinner.
"If it is such a serious problem, then he should have sat down. If it's not so serious of a problem, he should say so."
Administration officials have also said repeatedly that they are willing to consider adjustments to the current Futenma relocation plan, but it has to be "operationally feasible," meaning it meets Marine Corps needs, and "politically feasible," meaning that the Japanese host communities can go along.
Therein lies the problem, according to Tanioka, because, she says, "There is no politically feasible plan."
"Washington works under the assumption the original plan was feasible. It was not," she said.
While Tanioka acknowledges that Hatoyama and the DPJ have made some mistakes, especially in dealing with the media, she suggested that now the security relationship itself could be in danger.
"It's getting much worse than I expected," she said. "They are going to start saying ‘all bases out,' not only the Marines."
When Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Canada, he told her that Japan probably couldn't stick to a 2006 agreement to move a controversial Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa.
"I said [to Clinton] we fully recognized the U.S. position that the existing plan was the best," Okada told reporters after meeting her. "But given the current situation, I explained ... there are too many difficulties."
But while some observers see the dispute over the relocation of the Futenma air station as a crisis in the U.S.-Japan alliance, for Japan hands inside the Obama administration, the dispute is a manageable one and doesn't threaten the overall cooperation between the two allies. Administration officials do admit, however, that the Japanese seem to be flailing, struggling to outline a clear position and sending mixed messages from Tokyo to Washington.
"No one is foolish enough to think about crashing this relationship about a military base," one administration official close to the issue told The Cable. "We're going to try to see if the Japanese can move this forward over the next couple of months."
Two administration officials confirmed that Japan has now submitted a package of alternate ideas for relocating the base, which has riled local residents for decades. None of those ideas match what the U.S. and Japan agreed to in 2006, to move the air station across the island to reclaimed land near Okinawa's Camp Schwab. But that's OK, the officials said, privately acknowledging that some compromise away from the original deal will be necessary.
What is not OK is that the Japanese provided the U.S. only broad outlines of plans without specifics. Those specifics are what the U.S. side needs to come back with any counterproposals.
"They have not given us proposals; they've given us ideas or concepts, so that means it's preliminary," one official said. "The ball continues to be in their court. They've got to provide us real proposals that take into account political and operational criteria in Okinawa."
The ideas the Japanese put forth mostly include some mix of the Marines at Futenma relocating within Okinawa and some to a different place. Of course, the current plan includes Marines moving to Guam, but the question is how many. The U.S. has some flexibility on this question, but at the same time the Pentagon has clear operational requirements, and those need to be satisfied no matter what happens.
Both administration officials lamented that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan can't seem to speak with one voice on the issue. Okada, the foreign minister, is supposed to speak for the DPJ on the dispute, but other officials keep going off message.
For example, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on the floor of his own legislature, "I have my own plan in mind, and the ministers who need to know are aware of it," adding, "I will stake my life on addressing this issue, and I will come up with successful results."
"To me, that's like saying the check is in the mail," said Michael Auslin, a Japan expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "I haven't met anyone who believes he has a plan and I haven't met anyone who knows what his plan is."
Auslin states openly what administration officials say privately: that the confusion within the top ranks of the Japanese ruling party is troubling and poses a larger problem that goes beyond Futenma. They also complain the DPJ unleashed such a tsunami of political activity about the issue in Japan that they now can't contain.
"Hatoyama has completely lost control of the process and the party," said Auslin. "He's not able to deliver anything on Okinawa anymore so that's why we are getting mixed messages."
The Japanese had set a May deadline for themselves to come up with a solution, but that seems unlikely to be met. Here again, Obama's Japan team is willing to be flexible, to a point.
"We're not going to let an artificial deadline crash us," one official said.
But if and when a compromise is reached, that's only the beginning. The relevant environmental studies and operational evaluations would have to be completed, all over again. Then the DPJ has to sell it to their localities, no easy task. Then both sides have to come up with new funding details. Then there's implementation.
The looming deadline on the Washington side is the congressional appropriations cycle. Congressmen may not want to fully fund the massive expansion of the Marine Corps presence in Guam because that is dependent on the Futenma deal going through.
And what happens if it doesn't go through? What then?
As one official put it, "There are several imponderables on the political side."
Good news for all you Obama foreign-policy campaign mavens who haven't gotten called up to join the administration yet: there's still hope. President Obama nominated a top Asia foreign policy advisor for an ambassador-level job Monday evening.
Robert "Skipp" Orr, the former president of Boeing Japan and a former Hill and USAID staffer, was a major Obama fundraiser and foreign-policy advisor based in Asia during the campaign. Obama announced his intention to name him an executive director of the Asian Development Bank, headquartered in Manila.
Among Japan hands, Orr represents a Democratic-leaning group of experts and academics that saw the Obama presidency as an opportunity to shake loose the traditional hold over Asia policy held by a few prominent and well respected experts and former officials.
Back in 2008, other major Asia scholars were associated with other campaigns. Former NSC Senior Director Mike Green and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Schriver were top McCain advisors. Kurt Campbell, who is now assistant secretary of state for East Asia, was a Hillary Clinton supporter and current NSC Senior Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader was a Bill Clinton-era Asia official.
After the election, Obama appointed the Clinton-era guys rather than his campaign confidants. Orr, as well as some other top campaign foreign-policy advisors, were left out as administration slots got filled one after the other. Other top Asia slots were assigned for other reasons. The prestigious position of ambassador to Japan went to California fundraiser John Roos, who is not an Asia expert. Obama gave the China ambassador position to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a Republican whom many saw as a potential 2012 rival.
Now 14 months into the Obama administration, the top diplomatic posts have been largely doled out. But some still remain and loyal campaign supporters can still get their due. In another example, Tony Lake was just appointed head of UNICEF, a position that doesn't require any Senate confirmation.
So don't lose hope, former Obama foreign-policy campaign advisors. And to President Obama, how about taking care of former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Senate Foreign Relations staffer Frank Jannuzi?
In an unprecedented display of Japanese concern about U.S. nuclear plans, more than 200 Japanese parliamentarians have written to President Obama asking him to drastically alter the U.S. approach to nuclear weapons.
The letter comes as the Obama administration is putting the final touches on its wholesale review of nuclear weapons policy, called the Nuclear Posture Review.
"As members of the Diet of the only country to have experienced nuclear bombings ... We strongly desire that the United States immediately adopt a declaratory policy stating that the ‘sole purpose' of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter others from using such weapons," said the letter, which Japanese lawmakers hand delivered to U.S. Ambassador John Roos on Feb. 19.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, however, administration officials have told The Cable that although the final version of the NPR isn't finished, no fundamental change in the role of nuclear weapons is expected to be announced.
The letter also contained a thinly veiled reference to the concern that Japan could consider a nuclear program of its own.
"We are firmly convinced that Japan will not seek the road toward possession of nuclear weapons if the U.S. adopts a "sole purpose" policy," the letter stated.
The Japanese aren't the only allies calling for quick action on Obama's pledge to move toward a nuclear free world, as promised in his April speech in Prague. On Feb. 20, Belgian officials announced they would spearhead a call by Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway for the U.S. to remove all of its nuclear warheads from Europe.
The Virginia senator just got back from Japan, where he expanded his ever-increasing involvement in Asia policy making by taking a "listening tour" and weighing in on the basing dispute that has become the main issue of tension in the U.S.-Japan relationship.
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee, Webb's trip to Tokyo, Okinawa, and Guam comes at a time when the U.S. and Japan are negotiating how to implement the 2006 agreement to move the U.S. Marine Corps base at Futenma to another Okinawa location. The new Japanese ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, campaigned with a promise to alter the agreement, but the U.S. side is resisting large-scale changes.
The negotiations are in somewhat of a holding pattern, administration officials tell The Cable, while the Obama team waits for the DPJ to come up with its new position on the issue. The DPJ is facing a slew of domestic crises of its own, and the U.S. side doesn't want to force party leaders to take an unpopular stance that could undermine them politically.
But in a press conference in Tokyo Feb. 17, Webb said that a solution needed to be found quickly "on the Futenma issue for the well-being of the citizens in that area." He added, "I am open to listening to all suggestions from the Japanese government and also the people of Okinawa."
So is the administration upset at Webb? Not this time. "He's the only person on Capitol Hill that cares about Asia," said one official speaking on background basis. "He is trying to be helpful and wants to make sure the alliance does not flounder on the details of a military base."
Some observers said that Webb's involvement in a sensitive diplomatic dispute could create problems.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Honolulu branch, said that "Webb is no doubt well-intended and knows the issues, but certainly appears to be off-message ... It's been my long-held view that nothing makes things worse than attempts by Congress (individually or collectively) to make them better."
Webb doesn't seem to be negotiating directly, but his interactions with the people of Okinawa (who overwhelmingly oppose the base relocation plan) might be more of the Japanese government's responsibility, a Washington-based Japan hand said.
A former Bush official who worked on Asia said that Webb was pretty much in line with the administration. "He hasn't said anything outrageous; he is pretty close to the administration's message on this," the former official said, noting that Webb's activity does create, "potential for miscalculation and confusion."
Webb did emphasize the separation of powers within the U.S. government, tempering his statement that "there could be a number of practical options" by adding, "I don't want to outline those options today because I don't want to cut short the discussions that we're going to have."
Webb's first year as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee has been a torrent of activity. Multiple Obama administration Asia officials told The Cable that they view Webb's travel and interest in East Asia as a refreshing reassertion of congressional interest in the region, which had been somewhat ignored on Capitol Hill for years.
They also acknowledge there's a risk that by adding one more strong voice to the carefully calibrated relationship, there could be added confusion and complication in working out thorny issues such as the basing dispute centered on Okinawa. But the Obama administration is adjusting to what they now see as his sustained and influential involvement.
"It is a good thing when the chairman of the subcommittee takes an active interest in the U.S.-Japan alliance, that's not usually the case," the former official said. "He's doing his job."
The former official contrasted Webb's Japan trip with his August trip to Burma, where he seemed to get out ahead of the State Department's policy review by meeting with junta leaders and pressing for reengagement.
Webb, who sits on the Armed Services committee as well as Foreign Relations, could be an important vote if and when issues related to the Japan dispute come before Congress. For example, the relocation of Marines to Guam is somewhat dependent on resolving the Futenma issue and Congress deals with that in their defense authorization bills.
The senator was unavailable for comment before this article was published.
The U.S. and Japanese sides have met several times to discuss the still unresolved dispute over moving a Marine Corps base from one part of Okinawa from the other.
No progress was reported, but insiders say that the Obama administration is waiting to allow the new Tokyo government time to sort out its internal and domestic problems and present its views before deciding whether to apply more pressure on the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Meanwhile, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia, isn't waiting for anybody and plans to travel to Tokyo, Okinawa, and Guam on a week-long trip starting Saturday.
The aim of Webb's tour is to "listen carefully to the views of the current Japanese government, the leaders and citizens of Okinawa and Guam, and U.S. military leaders and personnel stationed in the Pacific region," his office said in a statement.
Webb's trip to Japan was his own idea and not part of any coordinated administration diplomatic effort with Japan. As with his other Asia diplomacy, Webb is expected to express his own views, which may or may not line up with those of the Obama administration.
"Given his history of taking independent stances on certain issues, like Burma, officials at both State and DOD are probably going to warily watch his discussions with Tokyo," said Michael Auslin, scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, "If he concludes that the Obama administration's position is the right one, however, that will likely put more pressure on Prime Minister Hatoyama to accede to the 2006 agreement."
Webb's trip is also another step in his drive to increase the congressional role in Asia policymaking, which was not a priority for the previous subcommittee chair, Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Webb's travel to Burma last summer drew fire from some, but his call for engaging the Burmese junta was later largely adopted by the Obama administration.
It remains to be seen whether his new trip will help resolve the U.S.-Japan basing dispute.
"Our alliance with Japan is a cornerstone of our strategic engagement in Asia," Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said in testimony before Webb's committee last month. Campbell reiterated the U.S. policy that the 2006 agreement over the base was the best way forward, but also indicated that the U.S. side wanted to show patience and flexibility toward the DPJ.
"As we approach the 50th anniversary of the alliance, we will work closely with our friends in Japan to think creatively and strategically about the alliance," said Campbell, who was traveling in the region last week.
Webb has a long personal history with Japan, dating back to his military service and his time as a journalist. Most of his book The Emperor's General, a historical novel focusing on Gen. Douglas McArthur, is set in postwar Japan
Cable readers already know the pernicious role that illicit cash can play in the U.S. politics, but it's nothing compared to what goes on in Japan, where the mafia organization known as the yakuza has deep ties to even the country's top leaders.
The recently-released Tokyo Vice, by American reporter Jake Adelstein, is the most in-depth look at the group published in English. In 2008, Adelstein broke the blockbuster story of top yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto, the "John Gotti of Japan," who made a deal with the FBI to rat out his cohorts in exchange for a liver transplant at UCLA.
He literally risked his life while writing Tokyo Vice and remains in constant danger as he continues to break news all over Japan. A great explanation of the yakuza can be found in this excerpt, titled, Bury Me In a Shallow Grave: When the Yakuza Come Calling (pdf).
Jake's introduction to the chapter, written for The Cable, explains how one current cabinet minister in Japan is alleged to have deep and longstanding ties to the mafia there:
This chapter from the book deals with the first time I ever met a yakuza boss as reporter and is also an introduction the role of the yakuza in modern Japanese society. I hope people find it elucidating.
As noted in the text, Japan's longest ruling political party, the Liberal Democrat Party, was originally founded with yakuza money. Associations with the yakuza don't seem to be much of a deterrent to holding political office in Japan.
Kamei Shizuka, the current Minister of Financial Services, according to the Weekly Economist, at one time received 40,000,000 yen from a stock-speculating front company Cosmopolitan--which was run by the notorious yakuza crime boss, Ikeda Yasuji. He also received political donations from the late nineties until 2001 from Kajiyama Susumu, a Yamaguchi-gumi Goryokai member and so-called emperor of loan sharks. Kajiyama himself laundered millions of dollars in Switzerland and the US. When I asked a reporter at one major newspaper why Kamei's past associations with yakuza members wasn't an issue--he simply replied, "The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) makes it difficult to write about these things."
Minister Kamei is in the unusual position of being the de facto boss of the Financial Services Agency (FSA) in Japan, which is responsible for uncovering corporate malfeasance and making sure that the yakuza make no further incursions into Japan's already tainted financial markets...
The law was put in place after former Prime Minister Mori became distressed about numerous periodicals writing about his social connections to yakuza figures and touching upon the possibility that he had been arrested in a prostitution raid in his youth. He initiated the movement to create the law and the LDP delivered. In a way, the yakuza are responsible for that legislation---which has successfully muzzled the press and according to lawyers specializing in dealing with organized crime interventions in civil affairs, "has only protected politicians and made it increasingly difficult to discern whether a business is a legitimate entity or a yakuza front company."
In my humble opinion, if you want to understand the nitty-gritty of Japanese politics, you can't avoid dealing with yakuza issues on one level or another. There have been a great number of politicians with associations to them, though most of the politicians with yakuza ties usually conveniently kill themselves after an investigation begins. I've always taken this to mean that suicidal politicians somehow find it very enticing to do business with organized crime. I suppose you could argue that they actually wind up getting killed and having their suicides staged. Possible.
The other reason that yakuza can't be ignored in the political sphere is they have lots of money. The Yamaguchi-gumi, with 40,000 members is probably the second or third largest private equity groups in Japan and as the Japanese say, ????????? (jigoku no sata mo kane shidai) ---" Even in the depths of hell, money talks." When money talks, politicians listen.
The U.S.- Japan relationship is in crisis, or at least that's the impression you would get from the major media coverage of the current dispute over the relocation of a Marine Corps base in Okinawa.
But what's actually going on, Obama administration sources say, is a realignment of U.S.-Japan relations that has much more to do with how the U.S. government approaches its premier Pacific ally than whether or not a small airstrip moves to one place or another.
"People tend towards the hyperbolic because that makes for more interesting cocktail conversation and better stories. I wouldn't exaggerate things," one administration official close to the issue told The Cable. "We're not burning down the alliance."
U.S.-Japan relations have been sailing calm waters for years, with few public spats. Some Japan hands see the alliance as more adrift. And now that there is some new tension, many are examining the somewhat unequal dynamic that has characterized the relationship throughout the years.
The U.S.-Japan relationship has often been subject to the phenomenon of what the Japanese call gaiatsu, meaning "external pressure." In a mutually reinforcing and self fulfilling way, the United States would exert both private and public pressure on previous Japanese governments on any range of foreign policy issues, from participation in foreign wars to support for U.S. basing plans in hostile Japanese towns.
That seemed to the be the tone Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used with Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki in a meeting last week regarding the Futenma basing issue, at least according to this well-circulated article in the Washington Post.
Apparently, Clinton told Fujisaki "in blunt, if diplomatic, terms that the United States remains adamant about moving a Marine base from one part of Okinawa to another." Her comments refer to the agreed relation of the Futenma air strip to Camp Schwab, part of an agreement that was signed in 1996 but has yet to be implemented.
But the new Japanese government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, campaigned in part on a pledge to alter the dynamic with the U.S., seeking a more "equal" relationship. The DPJ's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is trying to stick to that promise, while sorting out an internal foreign policy battle within his own caucus and dealing with serious domestic political problems. This makes the application of pressure toward Japan right now particularly risky, some Asia experts contend.
"To force this down a young government's throat is going to put this relationship on the wrong trajectory," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. "We need to be flexible right now because the new government simply hasn't stood up."
Lost in Translation
The most oft-talked about moment in the new U.S.-Japan dynamic, insiders say, is a now-infamous conversation between Obama and Hatoyama in Tokyo earlier this year, when the two spoke frankly about the Futenma basing issue.
Obama's team had decided to communicate privately to Hatoyama that the U.S. wanted to keep the current plan to relocate the airstrip to Camp Schwab as is, but wanted to avoid creating problems for Hatoyama in public by airing the differences in the press.
Hatoyama told Obama "Trust me," and Obama decided to do so, leaving the meeting confident that Hatoyama would deliver. The problem was that Obama's understanding of "trust me" might not have been exactly what Hatoymama intended.
"The ‘trust me' seemed to be that this was going to be resolved with the Futenma Replacement Facility at Camp Schwab, simple as that," the administration official explained, noting that the timing of Hatoyama's perceived promise remained ambiguous.
"That's not what he meant," said Cronin. "‘Trust me' did not mean he could fully implement to the letter the realignment agreement. He never meant that. It was a political ‘trust me,'... work with me and I can help you."
And so the relationship between the two leaders became somewhat soured.
Cronin said that aside from the misunderstanding, the current public position of the Obama administration is making the situation worse. In his meetings with both liberal and conservative members of the DPJ, Cronin reported that none of them thought they could move forward with the current plan for Futenma due to domestic politics.
"They can't implement the plan, period," he said. "If we force it, I don't think we will win, because they won't implement it."
Interestingly, the administration official said that the public position of adamantly insisting on the current Futenma plan was not without wiggle room.
"From the U.S. side there's been a recognition for quite a while that implementation adjustments were necessary," said the official, noting that the U.S. side has offered a package of adjustments on safety and environmental issues that could make the deal more palatable to the Japanese.
He rejected the contention that the Obama administration was putting pressure on Hatoyama. But he did say that the confusion within the DPJ and the lack of a clear position from Hatoyama was complicating the situation.
"If Hatoyama gave us any sort of clear idea of what he was looking for, it would be much easier to deal with."
Mindy Kotler, a Japan hand who directs the organization Asia Policy Point, said that public pressure on the DPJ actually serves to undermine Hatoyama, making smooth relations even more difficult.
The Futenma deal is symbolic of the American willingness to respond to the changes in Japanese society and the new government warrants a new approach, she said.
"Sure, the administration feels betrayed, but they made the original agreement with a [LDP] government that no longer represents the people of Japan," said Kotler. "Maybe they should take a new look at this thing."
The administration official said that the administration is sensitive to that and also understands that the DPJ needs more time to sort out its position.
"There's nothing magic about solving this by any date certain," the official said. "But the longer this takes, the harder it gets."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Are you just sitting around waiting for the opportunity to hear a lecture and take a booze cruise with a disgraced Japanese general who is notorious for defending Japan's WWII atrocities? Mike Huckabee apparently is.
Huckabee, the former (and likely future) Republican presidential candidate, is using his down time to host a weekend show for Fox News. For that program, he is planning to interview Toshio Tamogami, the former Japanese Air Force chief of staff who was fired in October after creating an international incident by writing in an essay that Japan was "not an aggressor nation" in WWII, according to the organizers of a series of events planned for Tamogami's upcoming trip to the United States.
Tamogami has launched an international lecture tour, which will hit New York in March. There will be a dinner cruise ($150 per ticket) on March 25 and a dinner lecture at the University Club on March 26 ($140 per ticket). Tamogami's website advertising the New York speech includes a picture of Huckabee and a link to Huckabee's personal website.
"Come share with us in the dual experience of powerful oration and rich history in The University Club of New York," Tamogami's site reads.
So what's going on here? The Cable reached Yasuhiro Takasaki, representative of the "Toshio Tamogami New York Lecture Committee."
Takasaki said that Huckabee was planning to come to New York and interview Tamogami for his Fox News show, although the interview had not been 100 percent confirmed. Huckabee would also attend the dinner and lecture, he said.
"It might be a good opportunity to meet with Huckabee," Takasaki said, advertising the event as a chance to get near the former Arkansas governor.
"I talked to Mike Huckabee last week and he is very interested in meeting with [Tamogami]," Takasaki said proudly.
The Tamogami scandal and his lecture tour has been extensively covered by the blog Armchair Asia, which points out that while Tamogami's "strident, revisionist views were brushed aside as an aberration in Japan's armed forces ... he remains vocal and a hero to many."
Is Mike Huckabee one of those? Repeated requests for comment to Huckabee for this story were not answered.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.