JEI's Spin on the News

North Korea Drives Clinton-Obuchi Security Talks

Thursday, November 26, 1998

President Clinton's tough talk on trade to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi received most of the media's attention during his November 19-20 swing through Tokyo as part of five-day Asian trip that also included stops in South Korea and Guam. However, insiders say that the two leaders also spent a considerable portion of their 90-minute summit discussing ways to deal with North Korea's suspected nuclear facilities. In that regard, the two leaders seem to have sowed the seeds for closer bilateral defense cooperation. According to one unnamed Japan Defense Agency official, heightened threats of a nuclear or missile attack from Pyongyang, in fact, are "working in favor of [the U.S.-Japan] military relationship."

In September 1997, the United States and Japan issued new defense cooperation guidelines aimed at expanding Japanese logistical and other support to American forces in cases of military or other emergencies in areas surrounding Japan. Mr. Obuchi plans to push for Diet enactment of necessary implementing legislation early next year. Some U.S. defense observers have been concerned that some of the more dovish opposition parties may try to complicate passage of these bills.

North Korea's August 31 launch of a rocket over northern Honshu, the main island, underscored the need for timely action on the guidelines-related legislation as have reports from U.S. military intelligence that Pyongyang is building underground nuclear facilities. The latter, in particular, would represent a flagrant violation of a 1994 U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement. Pyongyang's refusal earlier in the week of November 16 to allow a U.S. team to inspect a suspected underground site has heightened concerns in Washington and Tokyo about the reclusive, Stalinist country is doing just that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Japanese body politic now seems more behind the new U.S.-Japan defense blueprint. Support also is growing in Tokyo for acquisition of an intelligence satellite that would enable Japanese authorities to keep a closer eye on their reclusive neighbor as well as monitor other regional trouble spots. Messrs. Clinton and Obuchi were said to have discussed the intelligence satellite as well as cooperative research on a theater missile defense system.

Insiders also report that the November 18 resignation of Japan Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga to accept responsibility for a procurement scandal involving electronics giant NEC Corp. did not put a damper on defense-related discussions between Messrs. Clinton and Obuchi. Extensive bilateral contact at the working level has kept security-related initiatives on track regardless of staff changes related to the JDA scandal.

"JEI's Spin on the News" are the opinions of one of more members of JEI's staff and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization.

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