Glossing over specific problems, President Bush and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu have chosen to heap praise on one another to dispel ill will driving economic tensions in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war.
"To the degree that there's bashing on one side of the Pacific or another, Toshiki Kaifu and I are committed to see that that bashing doesn't go forward," Bush declared Thursday after the two met for more than two hours at the Four Seasons Hotel.With Kaifu at his side on a diplomatic fence-mending mission, Bush lauded Japan at a joint news conference for its role in the gulf war: A promised $13 billion in cash, services and support in lieu of military forces barred by its constitution.
With Japan lagging behind full payment due to fluctuating exchange rates and Americans wrankled the Japanese did not pay more, their partnership in the gulf created a troublesome political backdrop for their survey of the new world order.
U.S. officials said the session was arranged at Japanese request to earn Kaifu some respect and credibility at home by placing him in the same league as other allied leaders consulted by Bush since the end of the war.
Few question that Kaifu, governing with a weak popular mandate, needs the help. Indeed, he referred to Bush twice as "George" to underscore their personal relationship, which is perhaps the strongest card he has in his political deck.
Bush, however, was under pressure to ensure that gesture not go unrewarded. He gently nudged Kaifu on nettlesome trade disputes, including Japan's closed market to U.S. rice, but shied away from specifics or demands for concessions.
Instead, the two agreed in large part to foist their most contentious problems on the 108-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is trying to negotiate a new set of world trade rules, and minimize their differences in public.
"When there are problems, it is understandable that people dwell on those specific problems and we overlook the fundamentals," Bush said. "And those fundamentals include the fact that the Japanese government and the U.S. government, as you look around the world, see eye to eye on almost every problem."
A senior U.S. official said Bush and Kaifu saw their roles not as problem solvers but "making commitments to the overall success" of the GATT talks.