Bush starts tour with summit

TOKYO: US President George W. Bush arrived in Japan yesterday for talks at which Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to offer to send troops to Iraq, following a promise by Tokyo of US$1.5bil (RM5.7bil) towards reconstructing the war-hit country. 

Bush and First Lady Laura Bush arrived here amid tight security, on the first leg of a tour aimed at boosting the fight against terrorism and seeking support for rebuilding post-war Iraq. 

In what is Bush's second visit to Japan since taking office in 2000, the US president and Koizumi are expected to discuss reconstruction efforts in Iraq, North Korea's nuclear crisis and economic issues, including foreign exchange rates. 

Tokyo police said they had deployed 9,000 officers to provide security during Bush's stay. 

Koizumi is expected to tell Bush of Japan's plan to send 150 troops to Basra in December as an advance party, with an additional 550 troops to be sent early next year, Japan's top-selling daily Yomiuri Shimbun said yesterday, quoting government sources. 

The dispatch of troops, authorised under a law passed in July, would mark the first time since World War II that Japanese forces would be deployed in a country where fighting is continuing. 

If sent, Japanese troops will give support in water supply, electricity and medical assistance, the major daily Mainichi Shimbun said yesterday.  

Koizumi's expected announcement came as the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously adopted its resolution to authorise a multinational force in Iraq on Thursday. 

Japan's military contribution would be in addition to its pledge, announced on Wednesday, to provide US$1.5bil in grant aid for the reconstruction of Iraq in 2004 with a strong signal it will offer more at a donors conference next week in Spain. 

While Bush has warmly applauded Japan for its financial contribution, the aid amount was far smaller than the US$14bil (RM53bil) Tokyo stumped up during the 1991 Gulf War. 

On North Korea, Bush and Koizumi are likely to discuss strategy in dealing with Pyongyang's nuclear crisis, which erupted last October when Washington said the North Koreans had admitted to running a nuclear programme based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 nuclear freeze accord. 

On Thursday, North Korea threatened to display the “physical force” of its nuclear deterrent capability and to step up a nuclear weapons drive if the United States failed to meet its demands. 

Pyongyang's announcement came as cabinet-level delegates from North and South Korea were locked in stalemate at peace talks in the North Korean capital. Those talks broke down yesterday. On economic issues, Bush would discuss economic fundamentals and the importance of trade during the summit meeting, a senior US official said on Thursday. 

The president has repeatedly said markets should determine the strength of a currency and is expected to do so during the talks, according to business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun

The yen has recently risen to the 108-109 level to the dollar, sparking concerns it could undermine Japan's fragile export-led recovery. 

A strong yen hurts Japanese exporters by making their goods less price-competitive abroad and reducing their repatriated overseas earnings. 

Bush will leave Tokyo early today for the Philippines. – AFP 

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