The Cable

State Department Japan hand loses post as Campbell goes on Tokyo apology tour

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, 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."

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The Cable

White House working to stop flow of mercenaries into Libya

Though the Obama administration hasn't yet decided whether or how to aid the Libyan opposition, the White House is working to stop the flow of mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi entering the country from countries surrounding Libya like Chad and Niger.

"We've been working to ensure there isn't a flow of people into Libya," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs, on a Wednesday conference call with non-governmental groups. The call was off the record, but a recording was provided to The Cable.

Power didn't go into detail about whether or not the administration believes that Qaddafi is still trying to import mercenaries and she didn't going into detail about what the U.S. was doing to stop the flow of people into Libya.

Power was responding to a question about what the White House was doing to make sure violence in Libya didn't spill over into other countries, such as Sudan. She responded that the White House was monitoring the flow of migrant workers as well as those who might be coming to Libya to fight in the conflict.

"There's always danger of flows in both directions that we're very much on the lookout for," she said.

There are still thousands of migrant workers trapped in Libya and non-governmental organization leaders on the call were also concerned that the flow of goods through Libya to its neighbors might also be disrupted.

Power also said that the administration was increasingly reaching out to opposition groups in Libya, with the goal of setting up reliable communications to better understand the situation on the ground.

"Our contacts with the Libya opposition are expanding," she said, but added that the opposition leaders the White House was speaking with were having problems setting up reliable ways to keep in touch.

That's complicating the administration's drive to provide assistance to civilians trying to leave Libya and also to prevent potential fighters who are trying to get in, Power said.

"We are looking at ways to make sure that message is out there but it's a very challenging problem right now," she said.

The administration has been stepping up its assistance to migrant workers who want to leave Libya, sending Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg to Tunisia and Egypt this week.

They are meeting with government officials, international organizations, and nongovernmental organization representatives, according to the State Department, and the American officials will have role in deciding how to disperse the $30 million that the United States has allocated for humanitarian assistance to the victims of the crisis in Libya.

Ambassador Gene Cretz, the same U.S. diplomat who was forced to leave Libya after WikiLeaks released cables signed by him referring to Qaddafi's "voluptuous" blonde nurse, met with Libyan opposition leaders in Rome and Cairo this week, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the administration's internal debate over whether to take more aggressive steps to aid the Libyan opposition continues. President Barack Obama and White House staff continue to say that all options remain on the table, while the Defense Department and the State Department continue to express logistical and legal justifications for why actions such as arming the rebels or imposing a no fly zone might not be a good idea.

On Tuesday, the White House sent out a read out of Obama's call with British Prime Minister David Cameron that maintained planning was going forward on several options for intervention in Libya.

"The President and the Prime Minister agreed to press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo, and a no fly zone," the readout said.

Earlier that day, senior U.S. defense officials warned senators that the no-fly zone would be a full-combat operation, requiring extensive commitments of manpower and resources. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that a no-fly zone means "you would be entering into combat operations there."

"The first element, I believe, of entering into a no-fly zone is likely combat operations on Libya. And so I think in talking about a no-fly zone, there are some precursor steps that have to be taken," said Roughead, "And then it's also the issue of what are the forces that would be used, where are they postured, what are the basing, the over-flight issues. I think all of those have to be sorted through. We've done no-fly zones before, and there is a significant infrastructure that backs them up, whether it's naval or land-based."

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) also struck back on Tuesday at the State Department's claim that arming the Libyan opposition would be "illegal" under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970.

"The President has consistently and correctly said that ‘all options are on the table' in Libya. If the State Department's statement today is correct, however, it means one of the most effective options to help the Libyan people has been taken off the table. We urge the Administration to clarify its position on this important issue," the senators said in a statement.