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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005

CABINET INTERVIEW

Aso planning to run for LDP president

But won't say if he will continue Yasukuni visits as foreign minister


Staff writer

Foreign Minister Taro Aso, a potential successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said he will run for president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party next September if he can get the required 20 party members to nominate him.

News photo
Taro Aso

But Aso acknowledged this could pose a problem because the intraparty group to which he belongs, led by House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono, has only 10 members including Kono and himself.

"Even if I had the desire to run I may not be able to do so," Aso said in an interview Tuesday. "I am not in a position to say for certain."

However, the new foreign minister expressed confidence in his "sensibility to run the nation" compared to his rivals in the Cabinet -- Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

"The leader of a nation needs to have the viewpoint of a company president," said Aso, who headed the family business, Aso Cement Co., from 1973 to 1979. "That (is something) I think I have, as opposed to the other (contenders)."

While serving as internal affairs and communications minister in the previous Cabinet, Aso visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals and other war dead, every year. His most recent visit was in April.

Asked whether he will visit the shrine as foreign minister, he only said he will "make an appropriate decision."

Although similar visits by the prime minister have angered China and South Korea, Aso argued that the Yasukuni issue is a religious matter, not a diplomatic one.

Abe, the new chief Cabinet secretary, has indicated he will continue visiting the shrine.

If the three pivotal figures in the Cabinet pay homage at the shrine it will create "a grave situation" in Asian nations, warned outgoing Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura just after Monday's Cabinet reshuffle. He refrained from paying his respects at the shrine while he held the post.

But Aso noted that notwithstanding the frosty political relationships, Japan's cultural and economic ties with China and South Korea are strengthening.

He also pointed to the difficulty within a single nation or ethnic group of coming to a common perspective of history, let alone among two or more nations, citing examples in the United States and Britain.

"In the U.S., schools in the southern states teach their students that the Civil War was a northern invasion and Britons call the American Revolutionary War the colonial rebellion."

Regarding U.S.-Japan ties, Aso stressed the need to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, as soon as possible to ensure the safety of local residents. In August 2004 a U.S. military helicopter crashed on a university campus near the base.

The foreign minister did not rule out the possibility of the government drafting a special law that would allow it to grant permission to fill in the land necessary for relocation of the base to Nago, also in Okinawa, without the governor's consent.

Aso said the central government must avoid a situation in which it fails to gain consent from Okinawa and other local governments by March, when Japan and the U.S. will compile a final report on the U.S. military realignment.

"But first, we need to do our best to persuade the local governments," he said.

On Iraq, Aso said the country's ability to govern itself and maintain security is still limited and that Japan and rest of the international community should not leave the situation as it is.

"The government will decide (whether to extend the Self-Defense Force mission in Iraq) after taking those issues into consideration," he said.



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