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Sunday, July 23, 2000

Mori, Clinton hail deals on key issues

Staff writer

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and U.S. President Bill Clinton welcomed the resolution of telecom and host-nation issues between the two countries during their meeting Saturday morning.

Mori and Clinton also agreed to extend for another year the Japan-U.S. Enhanced Initiative on Deregulation and Competition Policy, a three-year framework of bilateral deregulation dialogue that expired in March, a Japanese official said.

The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the guidelines compiled in the 1996 final report by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, which sets out steps to reduce the burden on Okinawans incurred by U.S. troops in the prefecture.

Clinton apologized for the recent series of incidents involving U.S. servicemen in Okinawa but emphasized his belief that most servicemen are good neighbors.

A recent agreement reducing Japan's support for labor and private utility costs incurred by U.S. forces here, which will save Japan some 3 billion yen, was also welcomed by the leaders. Tokyo has shouldered those costs to date as part of its host-nation financial contributions, the official said.

The two decided to retain intact the basic framework of the Special Measures Agreement, which expires in March 2001 and sets out the legal basis of Japan's spending on host-nation support.

The revised SMA will be signed at a September meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, known as the "two-plus-two."

White House officials said the 45-minute meeting mainly concentrated on security issues, with the two leaders reaffirming the importance of the U.S. military's presence in Japan and expressing hope that the Futenma Air Station relocation issue would soon be resolved.

Mori began by thanking Clinton for his speech at the Cornerstone of Peace Park on Friday morning. He said he was grateful for the tribute to victims of the Battle of Okinawa and for promising to reduce and consolidate the U.S. military presence in Okinawa by implementing all the recommendations made by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa in December 1996. This includes the relocation of Futenma Air Base.

White House official Jim Steinberg said Mori and Clinton talked about moving the issue forward. It remains stalled because of a demand by the Nago city and Okinawa prefectural governments for a 15-year limit on the facility's use by U.S. forces. The U.S. opposes any time limit.

"We are trying to agree on the relocation of Futenma," said Steinberg. "What we would like to see now is more concrete movement forward on exactly what form that would take (and) I think both sides agree that that's something that would be good to have happen quickly."

In response to a question by Mori about a North Korean plan to scrap its missile development program in exchange for space technology, Clinton said that proposal needs to be explored further.

Although the G8 issued a statement Friday that welcomed the reconfirmation of a moratorium on missile launches by North Korea, Clinton expressed caution on the matter in his meeting with Mori.

Mori responded to suggestions that Japan caved in to U.S. pressure by agreeing to cut Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.'s interconnection rates by more than 20 percent in two years by saying the cuts will assist Japan's economy, Steinberg said.

"Prime Minister Mori talked about (the agreement) within the context of the whole discussion of information technology and saw it as part of the broader effort to help Japan adjust to changes in the world economy," said Steinberg.

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