- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Pacific harmony

East Asia’s political, economic and security interests are best served when the United States and Japan work in harmony, said Tatsuo Sato, a leading foreign-policy voice in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Despite talk in recent days of a more assertive and independent Japanese foreign policy under LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Tokyo recognizes the vital role played by the United States on regional issues such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s economic emergence, said Mr. Sato, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives and director-general of the LDP’s international bureau.

“The most important thing for us is to create an environment to restore peace and prosperity in Asia and in the world,” Mr. Sato said in an interview with our correspondent David R. Sands during a private visit to Washington this week.

“Since the United States is making the primary contribution to freedom in the world, I think the best course for Japan is to go hand in hand with the United States,” Mr. Sato said, adding that both countries “are in the same boat.”

“Strong ties between our two countries are the most important relationship in Asia and contribute strongly to world security,” he said.

He called on Washington to continue to exert pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program and over the fate of kidnapped Japanese nationals who have been held in the communist nation for as long as three decades.

Mr. Sato rejected criticisms that the Bush administration had taken too hard a line on North Korea, but expressed hope that six-nation talks hosted by China on the Korean crisis can resume soon.

Ivory Coast appeal

A key adviser to the president of the war-torn Ivory Coast is appealing for U.S. help to counter French influence in the once-prosperous West African nation.

“We really need an increased U.S. engagement in our country. The U.S. is the only country that can be an honest broker in the current crisis,” said Sarata Ottro Zirignon-Toure on a Washington visit last week.

Mrs. Zirignon-Toure, who holds the rank of ambassador, delivered a personal appeal from President Laurent Gbagbo, who blames France for exacerbating a two-year-old civil war with rebels who hold the northern part of the country.

France, the former colonial power, says its 4,000 troops are in the Ivory Coast to try to enforce a cease-fire signed in 2003 and to protect French citizens and economic interests.

Mr. Gbagbo’s troops last month attacked rebel and French positions, saying the country broke the cease-fire on Nov. 4 to pre-empt a planned rebel offensive. France retaliated by destroying the country’s small air force. The confrontation led to rioting and looting, as mobs searched the capital for French citizens.

“Prior to November 4, my government received information that the rebels were smuggling arms into [the capital] to launch an attack to take over the southern region of the country and oust the elected government,” Mrs. Zirignon-Toure said.

Mrs. Zirignon-Toure, the president’s deputy chief of staff, accused French forces of colluding with the rebels “to undermine” Mr. Gbagbo’s government. She also complained that the French military “operates outside the control of the United Nations,” which has 6,000 peacekeepers there.

“The French must comply with U.N. rules and regulations and stop operating independently and against the interest of the government,” she said.

Mrs. Zirignon-Toure said France is trying to impose “neocolonial control” over the Ivory Coast to stop Mr. Gbagbo from opening the country to foreign investment, especially to U.S. interests.

French President Jacques Chirac last month denounced Mr. Gbagbo’s “questionable regime.”

“We do not want to allow a system to develop that would lead only to anarchy or a regime of a fascist nature,” he said.

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