Thursday, April 26, 2007

Look Who's In Town!

I'd apologize for beating a dead horse, but this time the horse has become current again, so I'm beating away. Again, an IHT/AP piece prompted my post...and it is from that article that I'm drawing much, but not all, of the info below. (Note: the photo at right is from the White House's website and is from the 2006 APEC meeting.)

As some of you may know, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in town (or more accurately in Merrrr-a-land at Camp David) for his first visit (2 days) to the US as Prime Minister. There has been a decided effort to keep the visit low key in light of recent events. Thus, although there will be substance (6 Party talks, etc.), the meeting is being held at Camp David, not in DC. It's an informal dinner (cheeseburgers...just to poke at Japan, which used to be a top consumer of American beef, for the ongoing embargo), not a state dinner. And because Abe is a baseball fan (bless his heart), they're even supposed to play catch. (How you don't take him to Camden to see Da Birds, I don't know. For the love of Chowdah, they were even playing the Sawx!!) Tisk, tisk, President Bush. Tisk, tisk, indeed.

Anyway, senior officials at the NSC have noted that the visit is primarily designed for the two leaders to get to know each other (in the same way as W and Koizumi did and establish a friendship), but also because their families have a great deal of history together and because President Bush is in favor of the view of Japan (as a full security partner) that Abe and his political patrons have advocated.

Of course, given how far in his mouth he managed to stick his foot (intentions aside for the moment), the comfort issue remark was bound to come up....and (Thursday). (Remember that the Congress is currently considering a motion to urge Japan to issue a formal apology for its use of comfort women.) What I found interesting, as I often do (there's so much here, but I'll only scratch the surface to save electrons), is the difference in how these events are covered, especially which details different media outlets or nations emphasize.

The IHT piece, of course, refers to the issue. Abe apparently had a meeting with members of Congress and, as the story notes, ""Republican Rep. Roy Blunt said Abe "expressed regret that his comments were not as he intended for them to be and expressed great sympathy with people who had been placed in that kind of situation."" The article goes on to note that US officials seem to think that Abe's public statements demonstrate sufficient support for the Kono Statement such that the US will not raise the issue with Abe in future meetings. (As noted above, the two sides are seeking to downplay differences and emphasize the strength of the US-Japan relationship.)

However, very understandably (and given that the purpose of its article is to cover the one issue, not the meeting in general), this Yonhap piece (perhaps also because of the detail it provides) paints a very different picture of the meeting that took place regarding Abe's comments. Yonhap reports that, several Congressmen (and their staffers) left the meeting with Abe, "less satisfied and more puzzled about his position on "comfort women."" (The article reports that about 10 people attended the meeting, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and that the meeting was organized by Sen. Daniel Inouye, (HI-D), who is of Japanese descent. Rep. Mike Honda, who sponsored the resolution did not attend.) I think Grace was the first to blog on the resolution, right?

The article then asserts that the meeting served to turn the tide of support with regard to the resolution mentioned above. It quotes an unnamed source (I always love these) as saying that the Dems actually held up the resolution to wait for Abe's visit and that the meeting was organized to give Abe a chance to make his position crystal clear and to provide political cover for the resolution (cover against accusations that Abe was not given a chance to apologize or that the resolution was back doored through). The source also notes that attendees sat silent, shook their heads, and "...were extremely dissatisfied. Almost like a slap in the face."

I'll be interested to see what comes of this (or doesn't)...and how much political capital the Democrats are prepared to spend on this issue in light of how crucial the US-Japan relationship (security, economic, and otherwise) is and will continue to be. The unnamed source in the Yonhap piece says that Pelosi was going to push Abe further, but held back. If that's the case now, either the Democrats are waiting to take the White House, have other plans up their sleeves, are making back door arrangements, or....perhaps we already have our answer.

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