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

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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