For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2003
Background Briefing on President's Meetings with Japanese PM
Crawford Elementary School
1:15 P.M. CDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. As promised, we have a Senior Administration Official here this afternoon to fill you in on the President's meetings with Prime Minister Koizumi over the past two days, and to take a few of your questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thank you. I'd like to start off with just a few brief comments on what has just happened, which is that we have seen a day of very, very good, warm meetings between the two leaders of the two wealthiest countries in the world.
As you're aware, this program has had plenty of time for very close personal interaction. Yesterday afternoon, for example, the President took Prime Minister Koizumi on a long car tour of the ranch. Then afterwards they sat by the pool just in back of the ranch for something like two hours. All of these were virtually one-on-one. They had an interpreter sitting in back, of course.
But afterwards, I had both of the leaders remark that this sort of opportunity to talk one-on-one with one of the great leaders of the world is very rare for both of them. I think that reflects the closeness of the personal relationship, but it also reflects the strength of the relationship between the two countries.
During the course of their conversations, the two leaders touched on everything from the Middle East peace plan to Iraq, to North Korea, and perhaps most importantly, the future of our global alliance with Japan. And I say global alliance for very well-considered reasons. Those of you who have worked and served in East Asia understand that the U.S.-Japan alliance has been the bedrock of stability in the region for decades now. However, we've seen the alliance coming to fruition, to the point where Japan and the U.S. work together to confront some of the major problems facing the world today.
As I said earlier, of course, our two countries account for something like 40 percent of the world's economy. There was meaningful, deep exchanges on the economies of both our countries during the course of the conversations. We had very good meals together. There's a lot of comraderie. There are very close bonds between the two leaders of the two nations.
With that, I'd like to stop and sort of see if you have any questions.
Q Both the leaders used the same phrase, tougher measures if North Korea doesn't come around. I'm sure there's a certain strategic ambiguity at work here. Can you at least tell us what the options are? Blockade? Is there any more room for sanctions with a country that we virtually don't trade with at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's not just strategic ambiguity. It's basically also a question of where does the path take us. Even if you assume that the North Koreans are not going to be helpful, there are various different ways in which they can not be helpful, calling out for different sorts of responses. So I guess my bottom line is it's too early to say. We haven't discussed with our Japanese allies, for example, too much in terms of concrete measures, so we're not there yet. When we're there, we will be consulting with the Japanese, the South Koreans, and also the Chinese very closely.
Q Can you talk about how close you to the line?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, and I'll tell you why. Because we have consciously made a decision on the part of the U.S. government not to draw red lines. The history of the past 15 years with the North Koreans shows that when they think somebody -- and particularly the U.S. -- has drawn a red line, they say, oh, let's push up to that red line, let's cross that red line, let's see if we can provoke a response, let's see if we can force the United States to rush to us to talk to us on our terms. We don't really want to go down that road.
Q So what would you consider escalation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you name it. I mean, there's a number of hypotheticals that have been raised -- reprocessing, launches of rockets towards Taiwan, conventional provocation. There are all sorts of -- unfortunately, there's a menu that the North Koreans could pick from and it probably includes things that we here are not even thinking of right now.
Q When the President mentioned the possibility of bringing Japan and South Korea into talks that would then become five-way, with China and the North Koreans, should we interpret that to mean that you would like that to happen? And are there any discussions underway to make that happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll go a little bit stronger. I'll say, as the President said, we think it's very important that Japan and South Korea participate in future rounds of talks. You look at it and the North Koreans talk about things such as security assurances; they talk about things such as economic assistance. And obviously, when they're talking about these issues, they're talking about issues where Japan and South Korea play a vital role.
So, yes, they have to be participants. I mean -- yes, we haven't made a firm decision whether it has to be absolutely the next round, but I think we're coming pretty close to the point where we have to acknowledge that talks without Japan and South Korea allies don't make sense because they don't get close to resolving the problems. We can't enter into real negotiations as long as the Japanese and South Koreans aren't there.
Q And regardless of who is participating in them, what is the status of any effort to have a next round of talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're still finishing our consultations. You know, we had a very good set of meetings with President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea last week; excellent talks over the past day. I think we understand well where our South Korean and Japanese allies are. Now we hope to finish this round of talks off with conversations with President Hu in the near future.
Q If I could add an related topic. Both leaders mentioned ballistic missile defense. Could you talk a little bit more about specifically what that entails, whether the U.S. is stepping up its assistance to Japan there, and whether that is specifically intended as a signal to North Korea not to mess around with missile launches?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that you've seen the attitude towards missile defense globally change drastically in the past year or two. And I think you're right, the North Korean menace is a large part of that. I'm not going to get into too much specifics here because basically this is a question where we are sure that the Japanese are going to do the right thing. But they have to work it out within their own system. We've had good cooperation in the past; we're getting closer. They want to look at exactly what fits in the Japanese context. And we'll wait for them to decide that.
Q -- you mean by that -- in other words, are there limitations in the Japanese self-defense law about what kinds of missile defense they can have?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into that, I'm not really an expert. But listening to them talk, it seems like they have to decide where they want to help us, where they want to work with us, what kind of research projects do they have a nitch in, for example.
Q Today, President Bush publicly stated about North Korea's kidnapping issue. Is this his first time to officially condemn the activity?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He made a strong point today of condemning it because he has been aware of the issue in the past. And this was a conversation where the Japanese side brought it up. We have had conversations at lower levels back in Washington, and also in Tokyo, on the issue. But I think, given the fact that Prime Minister Koizumi thought it worthwhile raising it with the President, the President wanted to get strongly on record his personal condemnation of the kidnappings, and our determination that we will stand by Japan on this issue. And we understand the Japanese position that -- resolution -- and we support the Japanese position that resolution of the abduction issue is going to be one of several keys if there is ever going to be movement towards normalization between Japan and North Korea.
Q So this was the first time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it is. I don't want to be quoted on that -- I'm almost positive it is, because it hasn't come up in previous conversations.
Q On the economic issues, Prime Minister Koizumi brought up the point of deflation, that he would not allow Japan to go into deflation. And it's been a concern here in the United States. Was that a part of the conversation? And what did the President say to Japan about trying to turn their economy around?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, absolutely, they did talk at some length about deflation. The Prime Minister said that he is determined to tackle it, that he is determined to increase the money supply in Japan. The President strongly welcomed that. And I would say, overall the President was encouraged by the briefing he got from Prime Minister Koizumi on his plans to tackle Japan's economic problems.
They did touch, for example, on the Resona Bank issue. They talked about deflation. They did talk about regulatory reform, including the economic zones. The President was encouraged and he strongly supported the reforms and supported carry through. He was encouraged by what he had heard from Prime Minister Koizumi today.
Q Did they discuss currency levels at all, the dollar?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did to some degree. And as you heard, the President once again noted that U.S. policy is to support a strong dollar.
Q He told that to Koizumi?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely.
Q -- about them discussing Japan's economic woes. What about the economic situation in America? Did that come up, as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the President talked about our economic situation. He noted that we have been in a little bit of the doldrums, but he expressed confidence that we expect to see a turn-around shortly; he is seeing evidence that things are picking up in the country.
Q -- the threat of deflation here, did that come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Very, very briefly -- no. He touched on deflation first, and Prime Minister Koizumi said, I want to tell you what we're doing about deflation in Japan.
Q Just one on color. As you said, they met one-on-one for a very extensive period of time. Was this planned, or did the leaders, after they got together, did they just say, okay, we're okay, you guys go off?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was the latter. I will tell you that flying out on Air Force One, the President expressed a determination to get as much one-on-one time with Koizumi as possible, and this is obviously the way that the President decided to shape this.
Q Thank you.
END 2:25 P.M. CDT