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President Clinton

Clinton's absence at summit could hurt U.S.-Japan ties

November 17, 1995
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Claire Shipman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton's decision to skip his visit to Japan and tend to home fires may play well in the United States, but he is almost certainly missing a critical chance to nurture a valuable relationship that has become strained of late.

"I'm determined to keep our relationship on track, and the fact that I'm not going has nothing to do with the importance I attach to the relationship," Clinton said.

But U.S. officials said the Japanese are deeply disappointed -- though politely so.

It has been a rocky few years for U.S.-Japan relations, and the main differences have been over trade. But at this meeting, security issues would have dominated.

Marines

After three U.S. servicemen were charged with raping a 12-year-old schoolgirl in Okinawa, there has been intense public debate in Japan about the need to keep almost 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, especially in a post-Cold War era. Japanese polls show 40 percent of the public would like them to leave.

Clinton and Prime Minister Miryama had planned to sign a declaration of support for the security arrangement, which they see as critical.

Former Japanese diplomat Yukio Okamoto said the United States and Japan will have to reassure their peoples that their alliance is necessary. "Because the threat in East Asia has not decreased, and the interest of the U.S. in this region has not diminished," he said.

PM Miryama

But without Clinton, U.S. and Japanese officials fear it will be much tougher to make a case to a skeptical Japanese public.

Both sides were also hoping to iron out some wrinkles in their trading relationship. Japan is one of the United States' fastest growing and most critical trade partners. But the Clinton administration's push for freer market access has met with mixed results.

Morton Abramowitz of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says much more needed to be done. " ... The effort to get all these things accomplished have produced considerable abrasions which have affected the public on both sides," he said.

The administration is working to schedule another state visit as soon as possible, perhaps next spring. But officials admit the summit no-show will put a dent in the president's stature abroad, and embarrass an administration that has made Asia such a priority.

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