'We Bear Responsibility'; Japan's Prime Minister on Iran, China and 'Comfort Women'

Article excerpt

Byline: Lally Weymouth

This week, president Bush will welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Washington. Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, had a close relationship with Bush, who admired his courage in tackling Japan's economic problems and its old guard.But Abe, a staunch nationalist, recently aroused controversy in the United States and elsewhere by seeming to dismiss the complaints of Chinese and Korean women who were forced to serve the Japanese Army as prostitutes during World War II. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth interviewed Abe in Tokyo last week, where he discussed many issues, from changing Japan's Constitution to forging a new relationship with China. Excerpts:

WEYMOUTH: What do you hope to accomplish in Washington?

ABE: I believe the Japan-U.S. alliance is the only indispensable alliance, and I'd like to use my visit to further strengthen this relationship.

How do you feel about the recent agreement on the North Korean nuclear program?

I welcome this agreement but what is important is that North Korea actually act in a concrete manner to abandon nuclear weapons.

Do you feel sidelined because the Japanese government has said it will not participate in the U.S.-led deal until the issue of 17 Japanese kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s is resolved?

On this question, Japan and the U.S. are fully coordinated. To the extent the issue remains unresolved, there will be no attainment of the objectives of the Six-Party Talks. All the participating countries in the Six-Party Talks understand that if there is no progress on the abduction issue, then Japan will not participate in [providing] energy assistance for North Korea. If there is progress on that issue then Japan shall be able to make a greater contribution.

What do you define as progress?

With regard to that question of progress, at this moment North Korea is not responding in good faith. I believe that unless there is normalization of relations between Japan and North Korea by resolving the issue, North Korea will not be able to create their own future.

You've had success so far improving relations with China. Last week the Chinese prime minister came to Tokyo--the first visit of a senior Chinese official in seven years.

On my visit to China last year, I agreed with the Chinese leadership that we together shall build a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests. And there are numerous issues that can be covered, like the environment, energy, North Korea, East Asian development, U. …