Perry seeks to defuse rape row

RICHARD LLOYD PARRY

Tokyo

The US Defense Secretary, William Perry, arrived in Tokyo yesterday hoping to defuse the diplomatic crisis sparked by the alleged rape of a schoolgirl by US servicemen on the island of Okinawa.

In meetings with his opposite number, Seishiro Eto, and the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yohei Kono, Mr Perry will address the problem of how to reassert the importance of the US-Japan Security Treaty, while quelling anger over the rape and over the massive US military presence on the small southern island.

"The key message is that the US-Japan Security relationship is an absolute key to security and stability in Asia and that nobody benefits more than Japan," Mr Perry told reporters on his plane. "While we are deeply sorry for the suffering of the schoolgirl and her family, we cannot let this poison our entire relationship."

Even his own officials agreed that this is an ambitious goal for a two- day trip and that the issue may not be resolved before President Bill Clinton's summit with the Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, in three weeks.

Protests against the rape have spread throughout Japan, with demands for a reduction of the US presence on Okinawa, where 29,000 troops and three-quarters of US bases in Japan are concentrated. Mr Perry said last week that while the bases on Okinawa may be "consolidated", troop levels would remain the same. Yesterday, he moved closer to the Japanese government's line, saying units might be moved to different parts of the country.

For Tokyo that presents another question: if not Okinawa, where? US officials cite the cost of relocating bases, which would be borne by Japan, as an obstacle. Another is that if the Americans are unpopular on Okinawa, they would be even less welcome elsewhere.

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