Newsline Interview: James Steinberg

December 27th, 2012

Interview: James Steinberg

Dec. 27, 2012

NHK Washington Bureau Chief Jun Takao interviewed Dr. James Steinberg, former US Deputy Secretary of State. Below are some excerpts.

On US expectations on the diplomatic front :
The US-Japan relationship is a lot more broad and deep than just individual leaders in either of the two countries. The great strength of the relationship comes not just from who’s in charge of the government but by the strong ties between the people. And so I think in the first instance, we expect the same kind of close cooperation that we’ve had for decades between the United States and Japan, and there’s no reason for anybody to think that that will change in any fundamental way.
On the timing of the Prime Minister Abe’s meeting with President Obama in Washington :
I believe an early visit would be welcome, the opportunity for the two to renew their acquaintance. To have a conversation about the big challenges we face in the region is important.

The issues that we face in dealing with territorial issues which are extremely sensitive and extremely important, in dealing with the challenge of North Korea, makes it very, very important that we have a close, close set of engagements. And we have these ties obviously between the Foreign Ministry and the State Department, between our Defense Department-Defense Ministry-and the SDF, but I think there’s no substitute for leader-to-leader discussions and given the delicacy and the importance of the issues in East Asia now, the importance of the US-Japan relationship.

On Abe’s defense policies and its effect on relationships with neighboring countries :
For 20 years, the US and Japan have been talking about how we make sure that our security relationship and Japan’s role in the region adapts to the changes that are taking place in East Asia and the world. The world that we faced during the Cold War was a different world than we face today, and so I think it is useful, beginning as we did back in the mid 1990s with the security guidelines, to continue to update and rethink about what we need to do to meet contemporary challenges, and I think this is an important discussion for the Japanese people to have for themselves and an important discussion to take place between the United States and Japan.

But I think the key is to make sure that as we strengthen these efforts and as Japan adapts to the new security environment that we do this not in a way that’s designed to threaten or challenge anybody else but really to make sure that there’s broader peace and security throughout the region.

On US-Japan-South Korea relations :
It’s extremely important that both the new leader in South Korea and the new leader in Japan put a lot of effort into dealing with the issues that are troubling the Japan-South Korea relationship. This is too important a partnership to let these problems fester. There are obviously serious concerns on both sides. I don’t mean to diminish them. They have a lot of resonance in the publics in both sides, but I think both leaders need to demonstrate that they understand how important it is to have a good relationship.

I think we need to find ways in which each side can continue to have their views about the territorial claims without that poisoning the overall relationship, and that’s what’s so important is to keep this, like the military information exchanges for example that were being discussed by the two sides, we should find a way to move forward on that, notwithstanding the differences on the territorial dispute.

I would hope there’s an early opportunity for the leaders to get together and think about how they can work together to address these concerns about history and territory to build stronger ties. I would like to see more effort to strengthen the trilateral cooperation between South Korea and Japan. This is a great moment, at the beginning of President Obama’s second term, a new Secretary of State, new leadership in both Seoul and Tokyo, to really take on this big challenge and to show some real leadership.

On the issue of US bases in Okinawa :
It is important that we get serious about this and decide how we’re going to deal with the basing issues. I think it’s a distraction. I don’t think it deeply harms the relationship but I think it makes it more difficult for us to really think through the long-term relationship. I think we need to have some clarity about what the long-term US presence is going to be. There are economic issues, financial issues as well, security issues involved.

We understand domestic politics, we understand the sensitivity of the people of Okinawa but the current situation doesn’t benefit anybody. I think it is important for us to sit down, for the new leadership, especially if there’s a strong Diet majority, to take the decisions, understanding that there’s never going to be total satisfaction in Okinawa itself with any presence.

I think it is incumbent on the leadership to make some decisions, to be honest with each other about what’s possible and to go from there. And so I do hope that in the coming year that we roll up our sleeves, forget the niceties and really get serious about trying to come up with a plan that’s politically sustainable, that meets the security needs of the two countries and is economically affordable.

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