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Japan Leader Names New Foreign Minister - 2002-02-01

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Friday named environment minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as the country's new foreign minister in the first cabinet shake-up of his nine-month-old administration. Ms. Kawaguchi is a former bureaucrat and businesswoman who is known as a tough negotiator.

After two days of intense speculation, Prime Minister Koizumi picked Ms. Kawaguchi as Japan's top diplomat. She replaces Makiko Tanaka, who was forced to resign over a series of disputes inside the ministry.

Ms. Kawaguchi had few words for reporters Friday after the announcement.

She says she "cannot go into details over her new appointment except that she will do her best in the post."

The 61-one year old Ms. Kawaguchi graduated from the elite University of Tokyo in 1965 and later went on to earn a master's degree in economics from Yale University in the United States. She spent nearly three decades at Japan's trade ministry, where she gained a reputation as a top bureaucrat with international savvy.

Ms. Kawaguchi later served as executive director at Japanese beverage company Suntory and then became a junior environment minister. She joined Koizumi's cabinet in April last year when he took office.

Ms. Kawaguchi caught the public's eye for strongly opposing Washington for shelving its commitment to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

She now faces many diplomatic challenges, including strained relations with several Asian neighbors, such as China and South Korea.

In addition, she may face some unhappy voters at home. The public has strongly rallied behind Ms. Tanaka. There are concerns in Japan that her ouster could damage Mr. Koizumi's public standing and make it difficult for him push needed changes to revive Japan's economy. Hiroshi Oki, a 74-year-old lawmaker and former head of the environment agency, was named the new environment minister.