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Rice soothes Japanese anger over Okinawa rape, pushes on North Korea

Rice soothes Japanese anger over Okinawa rape, pushes on North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday she hoped a Marine's alleged rape of a Japanese teenager on Okinawa island will not harm the countries' ties as she sought Tokyo's help in pressing North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
After ordering her top Asia diplomat to stay behind in China to pursue potentially promising new ways to jump-start the North Korean effort, Rice came to Japan looking to quell outrage over the alleged incident, which might complicate U.S.-Japan cooperation.
"We certainly hope that there will not be lasting effects. It's a long-standing and strong alliance," she said. "Our concern right now is to see that justice is done, to get to the bottom of it, and our concern is for the girl and her family. We really, really deeply regret it."
The recent arrest of the Marine on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old girl on the island _ as well as a series of other damaging criminal accusations against some of the 50,000 American troops based in Japan _ have inflamed popular anger at the U.S. military presence.
Although thousands of U.S. soldiers and their families were restricted last week to their bases, homes and work places, the Japanese government has warned that such crimes could shake the two countries' alliance and has demanded further steps to control American troops.
Japanese officials made clear before Rice's arrival that they expected her to address the matter and offer remorse over the alleged rape, which has already sparked numerous high-level expressions of sorrow from the United States.
"This is just a really deeply regrettable case," Rice said. "It should not happen."
U.S. officials said they expected the Japanese would raise the case at most of Rice's meetings in Tokyo. She was scheduled to see Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, among others.
Komura has said Tokyo will install security cameras around U.S. bases as part of broader measures to curb crime. Ishiba urged the United States to understand that future crime could "shake the foundation" of the partnership.
The alleged incident earlier this month came at a particularly critical time in the six-country drive to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons programs _ an effort involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
Rice was in Tokyo on the third and last leg of an Asian tour that has been dominated by the North Korea issue. She traveled first to South Korea and then to China for talks on how to push the disarmament process forward.
In Beijing on Tuesday, she won assurances from China that it would use its influence with the North to help. She and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed several new ideas on how to overcome the current stalemate, officials said.
Details of those ideas were being kept quiet, but they appear to have given rise to hope that the process can get back on track as Rice on Wednesday instructed Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill not to accompany her to Tokyo but remain in Beijing to study them.
"He's continuing the discussions that we had with the Chinese ... on how to make progress in the six-party talks, how to get to a place where everyone is executing the obligations that they have undertaken," she said.
"We were having good discussions and it seemed like a good idea for Chris to stay behind and continue those discussions," Rice said. She replied with a flat and firm "no" when asked if she would elaborate.
Rice said earlier that U.S. and Chinese officials were looking at ways to "synchronize" the actions the North must take to meet its obligations, and the benefits it is to receive for those measures.
"We are the cusp of something very special here," she said in Beijing.
Although progress has been made in disabling the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility, Washington says Pyongyang has not yet produced a full declaration of its nuclear programs, including details on the transfer of technology and know-how that could be used to develop atomic weapons.
The declaration was due almost two months ago. The North says it has already met the requirement but the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush rejects the claim, which has slowed progress on the process aimed at restoring stability in North Asia and bringing a final end to the Korean War.
Rice's trip coincided with the historic performance Tuesday of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang, an unprecedented cultural exchange between the Cold War foes.
However, Rice _ a classically trained pianist _ has played down the event's significance given the totalitarian nature of the North's secretive communist regime. She was not watching when the concert was televised live around the world.
Rice said Wednesday that she had caught a later showing of parts of the performance and had been impressed.
"I heard the national anthem played in Pyongyang," she said. "That is special, it is. It's a good thing that Philharmonic went ... but I don't think anyone should overestimate the impact on the politics of North Korea."


Updated : 2021-07-24 13:51 GMT+08:00