Friday, November 14, 2003

TOKYO — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met yesterday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi one day after the government here announced it will delay sending troops to Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld and the Japanese leader discussed Iraq and Tokyo’s contribution to the postwar reconstruction effort, a senior U.S. defense official said after the meeting.

Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Rumsfeld did not discuss the announcement Thursday by a top Japanese official that Tokyo is delaying the dispatch of troops to join the U.S.-led international security force because of recent terrorist attacks in Iraq.

“The secretary thanked him for their contributions thus far, and the prime minister said that they were considering ways that they could make further contributions,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Rumsfeld arrived here in the afternoon by military jet from Guam and drove by motorcade to a meeting with Mr. Koizumi. It is his first visit to Japan since becoming defense secretary in 2001 and the second stop on a six-day trip to Asia.

Japan’s government has pledged $5 billion to the reconstruction of Iraq, $1.5 billion in grants for 2004 and an additional $3.5 billion in low-interest loans for the next three years.

Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Thursday that Japan would delay the dispatch of troops because of terrorist attacks. The announcement followed the suicide bombing in Nasiriyah that killed 32 persons, most of them Italian security forces.

Mr. Koizumi told Mr. Rumsfeld that the successful reconstruction of Iraq “was in the national interest of Japan,” and that it was important that the work in Iraq be better understood by the world community.

The Japanese leader said he was thinking of ways to help the work in Iraq to be “better understood,” the official said, and Mr. Koizumi also said that “continued U.N. authority could be helpful to make that understood.”

In addition to Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld discussed the Pentagon’s plans to restructure U.S. forces around the world.

He also raised the issue of U.S.-Japan cooperation in the area of missile defense, the official said.

Mr. Koizumi raised the issue of U.S. forces in the Japanese island of Okinawa, where Mr. Rumsfeld will visit tomorrow.

The Japanese leader told Mr. Rumsfeld that “Okinawa is a very important and sensitive issue,” the official said.

Mr. Rumsfeld replied that he was undertaking a review of U.S. forces around the world but that no decisions had been made about whether to reduce troops or add forces.

The local government in Okinawa has opposed the presence of U.S. Marines there.

The United States has about 58,500 troops stationed in Japan, including 14,000 at the 7th Fleet base in Yokosuka. About 28,900 troops are based in Okinawa, including 18,000 Marines.

During an interview on his aircraft before reaching Tokyo, Mr. Rumsfeld showed no sign of disappointment in Japan’s announcement that it was delaying sending troops. He said the coalition was growing stronger.

“The session we will be having will be on the normal range of things the United States and Japan have discussed,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “They’re an important treaty relationship and have been cooperating on a good many things, including most recently, missile defense.

“So the signal that’s been sent is quite the contrary,” he said, when asked if the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq were in trouble.

So far 32 nations have sent troops to Iraq and 14 others are considering troop deployments.

He added, “Japan has already been very helpful with respect to Iraq, in terms of their significant financial contribution.”

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