Clinton pledges support for Japan

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The Independent Online

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today promised solidarity and support for Japan as it recovers from a devastating earthquake and tsunami and copes with a nuclear crisis.

"We pledge our steadfast support for you and your future recovery. We are very confident that Japan will demonstrate the resilience that we have seen during this crisis in the months ahead," she said after a meeting with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.

Japan is determined to do a better job in preventing nuclear accidents such as the one that unfolded at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant after a tsunami triggered by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11 wrecked its cooling and power systems, Matsumoto said.

"Nuclear safety has to be improved," he said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the crisis-plagued operator of the nuclear plant, announced a plan to bring the crisis under control within six to nine months, aiming to end radiation leaks that have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

"We would like to see evacuees return to their homes as early as possible," said TEPCO's Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata.

Mrs Clinton said Matsumoto told her that Japan hoped for US feedback on the plan.

"The constant efforts to respond to the situation at Fukushima have required intense analysis by Japanese, American and international experts, and we have been very supportive of what Japan is doing to take the appropriate steps," she said.

Mrs Clinton and Matsumoto announced the formation of a public-private partnership to encourage investment in the recovery effort. The aim is to keep American businesses interested in Japan by demonstrating its resilience in the face of daunting natural disasters.

Mrs Clinton, who called Japan's well-being a "bedrock priority," also met Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the emperor and empress. She was due to return to the US later today.

"I am so so sorry for everything your country is going through. If there is anything we can do ..." Mrs Clinton said to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who have been visiting evacuation centres near Tokyo and plan visits to areas hardest hit by the disasters in coming weeks.

"There has been a great outpouring of concern, sympathy and admiration for the great resilience and spirit the Japanese people have shown throughout this very difficult experience," Mrs Clinton said.

Mrs Clinton said America would stand by Japan, saying she was confident the country will fully recover from its tsunami and nuclear disasters.

"We are very confident that Japan will recover and will be a very strong economic and global player for years and decades to come," Mrs Clinton told Prime Minister Kan during the brief visit to Tokyo intended as a morale boost to the crucial US ally.

Kan thanked Mrs Clinton for US help with the crises.

"We will never forget and we will keep in our memory that the US has provided such robust support," said Kan, in comments suggesting the aid has helped soothe friction over an American military base in Okinawa that forced his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, to resign last year.

Relief operations mounted by American soldiers after the earthquake and tsunami helped show a new and welcome face for troops the Japanese have hosted for decades.

Roughly 20,000 US troops were mobilised in "Operation Tomodachi," or "Friend," the biggest bilateral humanitarian mission the US has conducted in Japan. The US is also helping Japan cope with its nuclear crisis.

Kan has pledged to beef up disaster preparedness and make his top priority resolving the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Katsumata said he was considering stepping down because of the nuclear crisis.

"I feel very responsible," he said at the news conference, adding: "I believe we will succeed in containing the crisis,"

Katsumata said he was not sure when the tens of thousands who had been forced to flee their homes because of the crisis could go back, but Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said some could return home within six to nine months.

"Of course, some people will be unable to return home, but we will keep everyone informed," he said.