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Bush Arrives in Japan for Talks with Koizumi - 2003-10-17


President Bush has arrived in Japan - his first stop on a six-nation Asian tour focused on the fight against terrorism, Iraq's reconstruction, free trade and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

President Bush is in Japan to thank Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for pledging $1.5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq. The funds are part of a larger $5 billion package Tokyo is expected to unveil at an international conference on rebuilding Iraq to be held in Spain starting October 23.

Japanese media reports say Mr. Koizumi is also expected to announce plans to dispatch several hundred troops to Iraq to offer non-combat support to U.S. and allied forces.

The two leaders are also likely to discuss the region's top security concern: North Korea's nuclear weapons development, which is violating international agreements.

Japan and the United States are pushing for a complete dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities. North Korea has rejected the call for a year and Thursday heightened tensions by threatening to soon "physically display" what it calls its "nuclear deterrent."

But Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking in Washington, shrugged off the statement.

"I don't know what they mean. They've said things like that before," he said.

On the economic front, President Bush is expected to try to persuade Japan to help stop an escalating exchange rate battle in Asia.

Governments in the region have been trying to devalue their currencies against the dollar so they can sell more exports to the United States, which has a big trade deficit with Japan and China.

Japan, Asia's wealthiest nation, has spent more than $120 billion this year selling the Japanese yen for dollars to try to stop its currency from strengthening.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, or APEC, in Bangkok Monday, Mr. Bush is expected to raise his concerns over exchange rates and to call for easing tariffs and import regulations to expand free trade. At stake for American companies is a larger slice of the Asia-Pacific markets, the fastest growing in the world.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Mr. Bush will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and currency issues are again likely to dominate. The United States has been pushing China to end pegging its currency to the dollar - which keeps it artificially low.

The president's seven-day trip also takes him to the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia, where he will press for more funds for Iraq and praise efforts to fight terrorism.

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