US vows Japan safe from North Koreans

Gulf News

November 16, 2003


Juggling a plateful of sensitive subjects with a leading US ally, US Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld yesterday assured Japan that North Korea would not be allowed to undermine its security, but also pressed for more legal protections for US troops based in Japan.

After a news conference with Japan's top defence official, Shigeru Ishiba, Rumsfeld flew by Black Hawk helicopter to the US Navy base at Yokosuka, where he had lunch with sailors aboard the command ship USS Blue Ridge, and then flew to Yokota Air Base, where he greeted several dozen US Air Force personnel.

One of the tougher issues in US-Japan defence relations is the question of North Korea, whose arsenal of ballistic missiles - coupled with its development of nuclear weapons - is an immediate threat to Japan.

Some in Japan have expressed concern that if the US made security guarantees to North Korea - as the Communist government is demanding in exchange for talks on its nuclear programme, and as President Bush has suggested may happen - it could leave Japan even more vulnerable.

Rumsfeld said it was premature to talk about security guarantees for North Korea.

"I can say this: The United States government is not going to make any arrangements with any other country - that one or others - that would in any way undermine our security agreement with Japan," he said.

Ishiba said he felt confident that even if the US made a deal with North Korea, that would not automatically lessen Japan's security.

Rumsfeld will fly to Seoul later today for two days of talks with South Korean officials and visits with US troops.