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Bush Gives Japan Economy a Vote of Confidence - 2002-02-18

President Bush says he is confident Japanese leaders are moving to reform their economy. Mr. Bush is in Japan at the start of a week-long trip to Asia, where he is defending his position that North Korea is a threat to world peace because it could help terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush gave a vote of confidence to the Japanese economy, saying Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is working hard to achieve a bold reform agenda that will help revive Japanese markets, and contribute to a global recovery.

The prime minister is under pressure at home, facing an entrenched bureaucracy and a banking sector plagued by corporate debt, at a time when polls show his popularity falling. In a joint news conference, Mr. Koizumi called economic revitalization his greatest mission. "Whether my support is high or low, I shall not slacken these structural reform efforts that I have made.," he said. "This policy of structural reform will not change whatsoever. I explained this to President Bush. Measures against inflation, measures to prevent financial unrest -- we will do all our best in this regard."

Mr. Bush says he believes the Japanese leader will stay the course, and restore confidence in the Japanese economy by confronting what is called the country's "triple lows" -- fewer jobs, a falling stock market, and a drop in the value of the currency. "I'm not here to give advice. I'm here to lend support," said Mr. Bush. "When he looked me in the eye and told me that he is going to take measures necessary to improve in all three regions, I believe him. I believe that is his intent. And that is good news, because it is going to require a strong leader to deal with the difficult problems facing the Japanese economy."

President Bush says the Japanese leader is a man whose word he trusts, and whose advice he seeks. Mr. Bush says Japan's steadfast support in the fight against terrorism has not wavered, and he is confident the two countries will continue to work together to rebuild Afghanistan.

The president defended his position on North Korea, which he calls part of an "axis of evil," along with Iran and Iraq, which could threaten world peace by helping terrorists acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. While not ruling out military action against North Korea, the president made it clear he hopes international pressure will convince North Korean leaders to reject terror by embracing the freedoms enjoyed in South Korea. "We want to resolve all issues peacefully, whether it be Iraq, Iran or North Korea for that matter. As you know, I am going to the Korean peninsula to talk about that very subject," he said. "On the one side of a parallel, we have got people starving to death because a nation chooses to build weapons of mass destruction, and on the other side there is freedom. And it is important for those of us who love freedom to work with nations to convince them to choose freedom."

Prime Minister Koizumi says the president's characterization of North Korea reflects America's "firm resolve" in the fight against terrorism. He says Mr. Bush has been calm and cautious in his approach to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, without excluding any possibilities in order to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Japanese leader also expressed his support for the president's new plan to reduce greenhouse gases, calling it a "positive proposal." Mr. Bush rejects the Japanese-led Kyoto protocol on reducing emissions, because he says it is too costly for U.S. business. Instead, the president wants a series of tax credits and other economic incentives to get U.S. polluters to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases by 18 percent over the next ten years.

President Bush speaks to Japanese legislators Tuesday, before continuing his trip to South Korea and China.