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Koizumi Searching for 'Right' Foreign Minister - 2002-01-31

A search is under way in Japan for a replacement for Makiko Tanaka, who was forced to resign as foreign minister earlier this week. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi realizes his first cabinet shake-up may hurt public standing.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said Thursday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hopes to appoint a new foreign minister within a day or two, ahead of a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov Saturday.

Makiko Tanaka, who formerly held the role, was ousted Tuesday following a series of well-publicized battles with senior bureaucrats at her ministry.

Mr. Fukuda says the prime minister would like to choose a successor as soon as possible but that he is determined to choose the right person for the job.

Japanese news media say one of the front runners is Sadako Ogata, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She currently is Mr. Koizumi's special envoy for Afghan affairs.

Mr. Fukuda has said that if Ms. Ogata were to be given the post, she would serve Japan well because she is a highly skilled diplomat.

For now, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is serving as foreign minister.

Mr. Koizumi has acknowledged that the departure of the highly popular Ms. Tanaka could damage his own public ratings.

Ms. Tanaka held her own impromptu news conference outside her home Wednesday night. She told reporters she continues to support Mr. Koizumi's efforts to reform Japan's troubled economy and its system of faction-split party politics. She also said she did not resent his decision to remove her from his cabinet.