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Japanese-U.S. Alliance in Best Shape in Decades, Gates Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2007 – Far from stagnating, the Japanese-American defense alliance is in its best shape in decades, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.

Gates spoke to reporters aboard an E-4B aircraft headed back to Washington following a six-day visit to China, Korea and Japan.

"One of the most significant changes in the international environment on my return to government after 15 years, was the dramatic improvement in U.S.-Japanese relations," the secretary said. "When I think of all the disputes and the problems and the ill-will that were part of the relationship in the 1970s and 1980s and, to a lesser extent, in the 1990s, I think the relationship is as healthy and as strong as it's ever been."

Gates met with Japanese leaders in the wake of Japan cancelling a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Japanese oilers refueled coalition vessels participating in maritime interdiction missions in the region. The Japanese had to end the mission, when the Diet, the country’s their parliament, refused to extend the legislation.

While participating in the mission is up to the Japanese government, Gates noted that it is in Japan's international interests to participate. "It's important for people to remember that Japan's involvement in this activity is not a bilateral matter between the United States and Japan, but rather Japan's participation in a very broad international coalition that is trying to defend freedom in Afghanistan," Gates said.

Naval vessels from 10 to 12 nations benefit from Japan's refueling effort, Gates said, and that also "directly or indirectly" benefits the 40 nations involved in the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition. "It's a major Japanese contribution to a very broad international effort," he said.

During Gates’ visit, Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba spoke of a government initiative that could ease Japanese participation in such activities. "I was intrigued by the defense minister's proposal last night ... to seek a general law so that every time a decision needed to be made on Japanese participation in some kind of an international cooperative effort, it did not require an individual authorization," Gates said. "He seemed quite enthusiastic about it. It would certainly appear to facilitate Japan's participation in a number of these activities."

Gates told reporters that he talked about Japanese host-nation support in each session with Japanese leaders. "I talked about the importance of rolling it over and keeping it at the same level," he said. "This alliance provides many benefits for both sides, but it provides some very significant benefits for Japan. And as the second-wealthiest country in the world, it wasn't just the money but the symbolism it represented in terms of the health of the alliance and the fact that Japan attached real importance to the continuation of the alliance."

He also said that while every country has to make its own decisions, "it seems to me that it's a challenge for Japan to meet its own defense obligations as well as the obligations of the defense alliance with the defense budget capped at 1 percent."

The U.S.-Japan defense pact is undergoing a transition. The secretary said he would like to see the roadmap for realignment implemented just as it was negotiated. "It was a complex but coherent set or arrangements," Gates said. "We think that all arrangements should be implemented just as they were negotiated and we would like to see the implementation proceed as quickly as possible."

The secretary also spoke of Pakistan and what the crisis caused by President Pervez Musharraf implementing a state of emergency means to the fight against terrorism. "The concern I have is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area," he said.

"We said from the very beginning it's important to move back to constitutional processes as quickly as possible," Gates said. "I think that there is building pressure for him to take off his uniform if he continues as president. But I think that setting the date for the elections was certainly an important first step."

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Robert M. Gates

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