- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

TOKYO — Japan’s protocol-conscious press is crowing that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will receive a more elaborate welcome than Chinese President Hu Jintao did when he visits Washington today. But Mr. Koizumi and President Bush also have serious matters to discuss, such as Iraq and the prospects of a North Korean long-range missile launch.

The Tokyo government has taken steps to ensure a successful meeting, agreeing last week to reopen its markets to American beef and announcing Monday that it will deploy advanced U.S. Patriot interceptor missiles on Japanese soil.

Mr. Koizumi arrived in Toronto yesterday, on the first leg of his four-day trip. He will tour Niagara Falls and hold talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa today before traveling to Washington.

Japanese analysts expect Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Bush also will discuss the Iranian nuclear standoff, rising instability in Afghanistan and the threat posed by bird flu as the U.S. and Japan seek to highlight their international cooperation before the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg next month.

Tokyo, which was shocked when North Korea tested a long-range missile over Japan’s main island in 1998, has been closely aligned with Washington in demanding that Pyongyang not fire a Taepodong-2 missile currently sitting on a launchpad near the country’s northeastern coast.

Japan’s largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, which reported that U.S. PAC-3 missiles could be installed in Japan by the end of the year, said it was not clear whether they could shoot down a Taepodong-2, which is thought to be capable of reaching parts of the United States. The PAC-3missiles are designed to intercept ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or enemy aircraft.

Mr. Koizumi also supports the U.S. policy in Iraq, even though he declared last week that Japan would withdraw its 550 troops engaged in reconstruction and humanitarian work in the Samawah region in that country. He is expected to announce an expansion in operations of the Air Self-Defense Force, which is supporting coalition forces in Iraq.

“It is important to leave a national flag among multinational forces in Iraq,” said Toshiyuki Shikata, a law professor at Teikyo University in Tokyo and retired Ground Self-Defense Force general.

Japanese journalists are more focused on the fact that Mr. Koizumi will be treated to a gala White House dinner, a stay at Blair House, a ride aboard Air Force One and a visit to rock legend Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tenn. Mr. Koizumi is a lifelong Elvis fan.

Wary of a rising China, Japanese are sensitive to the contrast with the treatment given to the Chinese president when he visited Washington in April. Mr. Hu “was given only a luncheon” at the White House, noted the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun.

Mr. Shikata said Mr. Koizumi “from the very beginning developed a warm personal relationship with Mr. Bush. They want to display strong bilateral ties, and both of them want to appreciate their close relationship.”

He said Yasuhiro Nakasone, prime minister of Japan from 1982 to 1987, also was known for his close relationship with a U.S. president — Ronald Reagan. But the professor added, “Mr. Koizumi’s ties with Mr. Bush are stronger than that.”

The Bush administration was particularly grateful for Mr. Koizumi’s decision to send troops to Iraq despite strong public opposition and Japan’s U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution, Mr. Shikata said.

“A usual Japanese prime minister would have hesitated to do that.”

The visit will cap the career of Mr. Koizumi, whose successor will be chosen when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party picks its next president in September. Mr. Koizumi is expected to ask Mr. Bush to give his cooperation to Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the likely winner.

“Mr. Koizumi does not want to step down with his approval ratings declining. He wants the U.S. president to praise him as a great leader. That is his foremost desire,” said Minoru Morita, a prominent Tokyo-based political analyst.

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