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Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007

Abe PR flack U.S.-bound for media spin control


Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's public relations adviser will visit the United States later this month in an apparent bid to improve his administration's image in the American media.

Upper House member Hiroshige Seko will visit Washington and New York to explain Abe's "basic policies" to editorial writers at major U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the government said Wednesday.

The Feb. 19-24 trip comes ahead of Abe's reported plan to make his first visit to the U.S. as prime minister for talks with President George W. Bush during the Golden Week holiday from late April to early May.

Seko, considered a PR expert after serving in NTT Corp.'s public relations department before entering politics, will be visiting the U.S. amid the recent spate of scandals involving Abe's Cabinet, episodes that also made headlines in the U.S. media.

Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said Jan. 24 that Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was "wrong" -- even though Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, steadfastly supported the U.S. president in the war.

Three days later, Kyuma said the U.S. lacks understanding of Tokyo's ongoing talks with Okinawa on relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma -- a thorny issue that lies at the heart of the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Kyuma's remarks caused a fallout. Vice U.S. President Dick Cheney, scheduled to pay a three-day visit to Japan beginning Feb. 21, has no plans to meet with him, even though the agenda of his visit reportedly includes the U.S. military realignment.

A recent gaffe by health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa, who referred to women as "child-bearing machines" in a Jan. 27 speech on Japan's declining birthrate, was also widely taken by the U.S. media as another woe engulfing Abe's Cabinet.

Seko's trip is part of Abe's agenda to improve the government's communications with overseas media, government officials said.

March security talks

Kyodo News Japan and the United States are planning to hold a top-level security meeting of their foreign and defense chiefs in the United States in late March, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.

The four are expected to discuss the ongoing realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan, ways to beef up cooperation on the missile defense system and policies on Iraq, the sources said.



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