- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2011

APOLOGIZING TO JAPAN

The U.S. ambassador to Japan rushed to Okinawa Thursday to apologize for insulting remarks attributed to a State Department official in Washington who reportedly called Okinawa residents “masters of manipulation and extortion” who are “too lazy” to grow their own vegetables.

The remarks outraged Japanese officials and embarrassed an assistant secretary of state on a visit to Tokyo, where he was in delicate talks about relocating a major U.S. military base on Okinawa.

“I have and Ambassador [John] Roos has apologized deeply to all key players in the Japanese government,” Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Tokyo. “We do believe this has caused some harm.”

Mr. Campbell said he relieved Kevin Maher from his duties as director of the State Department’s office of Japanese affairs after reports surfaced in Japan about an off-the-record lecture he delivered at American University in Washington in December.

“Okinawans are masters of manipulation and extortion of Tokyo,” Mr. Maher said, according students who released their notes on the lecture to Japan’s Kyodo News Service. He was referring to how Okinawan politicians frequently outmaneuver Tokyo officials in negotiations over issues like greater compensation for hosting the U.S. military base.

Kyodo also reported that Mr. Maher said Okinawa residents rely on tourism because they are “too lazy to grow goya,” a bumpy green gourd used in many Japanese dishes. He also noted that Okinawa has the highest divorce rate, more illegitimate babies and more drunken drivers than anywhere else in Japan, according to Kyodo.

Mr. Maher has said the notes are inaccurate but has made no further comment.

Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto denounced Mr. Maher’s remarks as “unacceptable and highly regrettable.”

“They hurt the feelings of the Okinawans and the Japanese people as a whole,” he said.

Mr Campbell told reporters at a press conference Thursday that he replaced Mr. Maher with Rust Deming, a retired foreign service officer who served in Japan as deputy ambassador in the 1990s.

Mr. Deming, who was still serving as a consultant to the State Department, agreed to take on the assignment until Mr. Campbell finds a permanent replacement for Mr. Maher.

Mr. Campbell said Mr. Maher remains at the State Department and called him a “fine” diplomat who has “devoted his career to the U.S.-Japan relationship.”

CHINA WELCOMES LOCKE

China applauded President Obama for nominating Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the new U.S. ambassador to Beijing.

“He will play a positive role,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Jian Yu.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Locke would replace Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah who is resigning next month. He is expected to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

Mr. Obama also nominated Daniel Shapiro, an Israel specialist at the National Security Council, to serve as ambassador to Israel. Mr. Shapiro is a longtime Obama political supporter.

Both nominations announced Wednesday were widely expected in Washington.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washington times.com.

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