Japan’s PM Koizumi departs for diplomatic debut in U.S.

TOKYO, Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left for Washington on Friday to make his debut on the diplomatic stage, in his pocket an outline of ambitious plans to revive the world’s number two economy to show George W. Bush.

But defense differences are likely to dog the summit in the wake of Koizumi’s comments that he saw huge differences between the two, particularly on the missile defense policy so close to President Bush’s heart.

And the talks between leaders of the world’s two richest nations risk being overshadowed by one of the chief irritants to their alliance after Japanese police began questioning U.S. servicemen in the possible rape on Friday of a young Japanese woman near a huge U.S. air base on southern Okinawa island.

“I will have my first meeting with President Bush. I want to build relationships of trust with leaders of the United States, Britain and France,” said Koizumi, who goes to Europe next week.

Koizumi will meet Bush on Saturday at the Camp David retreat in Maryland for talks on a raft of topics ranging from his reform agenda and Japan’s fragile economy to security, to the presence of U.S. forces in Japan and climate change.

Defense will be a key topic, particularly in connection with a policy at the forefront of Bush’s agenda — missile defense.

Koizumi told a news conference just hours before his departure that differences existed between the two allies.