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Bush Begins Asia Tour in Japan - 2002-02-17

President Bush has arrived in Japan at the start of a six-day trip to Asia. The president wants to encourage quicker economic reform in Japan while asking all Asian allies to help prevent North Korea from supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

The president begins his Asia trip here in Japan with a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Bush is expected to encourage the Japanese leader to move faster on economic reforms as unemployment is on the rise in the world's second largest economy as incomes and consumer confidence decline along with the Prime Minister's popularity.

At their first meeting in the United States last June, the Japanese leader outlined plans to "vigorously and comprehensively" reform his country's economy by capping government spending and restructuring a banking sector troubled by corporate debt and non-performing loans.

Since then, the Japanese economy has fallen farther, in part because of a U.S. recession made worse by terrorist atacks. White House officials said President Bush hopes to regain some of the momentum toward Japanese economic reform by backing the Prime Minister's approach without endorsing specific actions which might be seen as interfering in the reform process.

Mr. Bush said both countries are committed to open markets and sound regulatory policy to improve foreign direct investment. "Today, Japan is in the midst of economic uncertainty and transition," he said. "But I have great confidence in Japan's future and in the unlimited potential of its people. And I'm confident that Japan will make the bold reforms needed to restore growth and opportunity, which will benefit the people of both our nations."

In a speech to Japanese legislators, President Bush will thank them for supporting the U.S. led coalition against terrorism and for offering to help pay for reconstruction in Afghanistan. He will continue to call for international pressure on North Korea, which he says is a threat to world peace because it may help terrorists acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

The president's characterization of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil", along with Iran and Iraq, has raised concerns in Asia that the next phase of the war against terrorism could increase tensions on the Korean penninsula. While Mr. Bush said he is not ruling-out military action against North Korea, administration officials make it clear they first want to try diplomatic efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

While in Japan, the president is also expected to face questions about his new plan to slow the growth of greenhouse gases. Mr. Bush last year rejected the Kyoto treaty on global warming as too costly for U.S. business. He said tax cuts and other incentives will get U.S. companies to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent over the next ten years. Under his plan, the United States will still produce more harmful emissions but at a slower rate.

The Japanese Environment Minister Friday said he is disappointed with the Bush plan because it falls short of targets set by the Kyoto protocol.