Washington-Tokyo trade barbs
on handling of Okinawa and Iraq

Reuters

TOKYO, Japan - Japan's defence minister has criticised Washington's handling of the relocation of an American base in Japan in his second attack on US decision-making inside a week, Kyodo news agency said on Sunday.

Fumio Kyuma irked the Bush administration on Wednesday by saying the United States was wrong to start the war in Iraq.

Kyodo reported that his remarks on Iraq had prompted James Zumwalt, director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the US State Department, to say that any further critical comments from Japan might make it difficult to hold the next round of Japan-US talks involving foreign and defence ministers.

The "two plus two" talks were last held in Washington in May.

While the two governments have reached an agreement over the relocation of a US base on the southern island of Okinawa, Kyuma said on Saturday Washington did not understand the need for the cooperation of Okinawa's governor for the deal to go ahead.

"When we have to go about this by taking the governor's opinion into account, the United States doesn't understand matters around it," Kyodo quoted Kyuma as saying in a speech in the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki.

"The United States doesn't understand (the importance of) spadework," he said.

Kyuma played down his comments on Iraq, saying on Friday they might have appeared stronger than intended in translation, but that he would be more careful about his remarks in future.

He had told a news conference on Wednesday: "I think President Bush launched the war in a situation as if there were nuclear weapons, but I think that decision as wrong."

US expresses displeasure

Washington told Tokyo it is displeased with recent remarks by Japan's defense minister that were critical of the US decision to invade Iraq, a news report said Sunday.

Last Wednesday, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma told a news conference that US President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq "based on an assumption that weapons of mass destruction existed was a mistake."

The proximity of the remarks to Bush's State of the Union address drew complaints through diplomatic channels in Washington, Kyodo News agency said in a Tokyo-datelined story, citing unidentified diplomatic officials.

James Zumwalt, director of the State Department's Office of Japanese Affairs, told a staff member at the Japanese Embassy that the US took the comments "very seriously," Kyodo cited the officials as saying.

US State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said Saturday evening in Washington that he was unaware of any such complaint.

Japanese Foreign Ministry officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Kyuma made the comments hours after Bush implored the US Congress in his annual State of the Union Address to back his unpopular plan to send more US troops to Iraq, saying it represents the best chance in a war America must not lose.

Japan - Washington's closest Asian ally - backed the invasion, and in the aftermath of his remarks, Kyuma has sought to distance himself from them under intense pressure from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.

On Saturday, Kyuma reportedly made comments criticizing the US stance toward Okinawa over the relocation of a US Marine Corps air base on the southern Japanese island, saying Washington did not understand the need to consult with Okinawa in finalizing the plan.

The plan to move Futenma airstrip in Okinawa is part of the agreement Tokyo and Washington finalized last May to realign the 50,000 US forces that have been stationed in Japan since World War II.
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