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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

Departing Schieffer rues abductee issue


Staff writer

Departing U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer expressed regret Wednesday there was not more progress on the abduction issue during his stint but pledged to continue to support the effort to repatriate any Japanese kidnapped to North Korea regardless of his future post.

"I will never forget walking with Mr. and Mrs. Yokota along the same path Megumi traveled on that fateful day when she was snatched from her family," Schieffer said of the abducted teen during his final public appearance, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

"I will continue to support their efforts to find justice in this matter, no matter where and what I might do in the future," said Schieffer, who is scheduled to return to the United States on Thursday.

Schieffer served in Japan for nearly four years from April 2005, when he was appointed to the position by his close friend, President George W. Bush. He began his final speech by mentioning the abduction issue and went on to express gratitude toward the close relations he developed with Japanese politicians.

He called former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a "visionary leader" and thanked Japan's politicians for their support and cooperation. "Its been a good run, as we say, and I will miss it," he told reporters.

Schieffer recalled how in October 2006 then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted to North Korea's nuclear test, noting Japan would not consider going nuclear because of its coalition with the U.S.

Abe's reaction was "the ultimate expression of just how strong our alliance is," Schieffer said, acknowledging that ties between Washington and Tokyo are and will remain the linchpin of U.S. foreign policy in Asia and the Pacific.

Schieffer, a Democrat, revealed to reporters that he voted for Barack Obama in November's presidential election and assured that the next U.S. administration will continue to cherish the relationship with Tokyo. Japan "need not to worry America will look elsewhere for allies and friends," he said.

He mentioned some ongoing issues between the two states, including opening up Japan's agricultural market, the recurring beef import dispute and Japan's involvement in antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan. Japan's first response to the next U.S. administration on such issues must not be: "No we can't," Schieffer advised, referring to Obama's campaign slogan of "Yes, we can."



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