THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER YOSHIRO MORI OF JAPAN BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:40 A.M. EDT
Q Did they sent out for burgers? (Laughter.) Not salmon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were no vegetables as part of this meeting.
Q No steamed -- mixed vegetables?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No mixed vegetables.
Q Did he --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister and the President spent about an hour and fifteen minutes in the Oval Office, along with senior representatives of their respective security and economic teams. It, as the President indicated, was the first opportunity for the Prime Minister and the President to have a good, substantive exchange, even though they had met each other years ago. And it was a warm, cordial, convivial meeting.
They spent most of their time talking about the upcoming G-8 summit. As you know, the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to visit with many of his fellow G-7, G-8 leaders, in preparation for the upcoming July summit in Okinawa. The Prime Minister spent a fair amount of time helping the President understand the special significance of Okinawa, and the reasons why the Japanese government favored holding the summit on the island.
Q What was the significance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, just, you know, there's a special significance in terms of the relationship between Okinawa and Japan, the fact that it was the scene of some significant fighting during the course of the Second World War.
They talked about the agenda for G-8, which includes health issues, vaccines, education, poverty, information technology. In that context, they did talk about issues regarding telecommunications. And the President spent a good amount of time helping Prime Minister Mori understand how information technology has helped the United States -- in terms of creation of jobs, creation of wealth -- and that it would be our hope that by using information technology, lowering the interconnectivity charges, overcoming the digital divide -- which I think is an issue that will also be raised during the G-8, that this can be some economic stimulus to provide some growth for Japan as well; so it was in that focal point.
The Prime Minister related his meeting with President-elect Putin in Russia. They agreed that it was important for Russia to continue to pursue economic reform. They talked briefly about WTO, and jointly believe we hope to achieve a new round in the WTO. And lastly, the Prime Minister said that he appreciated, in the area of regional issues, he appreciated the strong efforts that the President has underway to achieve a favorable vote on PNTR.
Q On the telecommunications, and specifically on the interconnectivity charge, the United States wants Japan to reduce that by 41 percent; Japan has countered with an offer of 22.5 percent, I think. Did they discuss that? Did they get any closer to bridging the gap on that specific issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't characterize this as part of a negotiation. Obviously, we have trade officials that are continuing to work through these issues. I think it was probably in a more broad, philosophical aspect where, as the President indicated outside, we have a strong interest in seeing the Japanese economy grow, and we obviously see, as the Japanese do, some favorable, positive signs that their economy is starting to turn a corner.
But I think this was for the President having to share our experience here in the United States. For example, in Japan only 35 percent of Japanese schoolchildren have access to the Internet, in part because of the high interconnectivity charges that exist -- whereas the United States, for example, it's 95 percent. So in that context of the importance that information technology has, as we've seen in our country how important information technology is -- to spur economic growth, create jobs, create wealth -- we believe that this is something that can be of great interest and significance for the Japanese people.
And so, he just encouraged both -- I think encouraged us to continue to work hard to see if we can't work this out.
Q But they didn't discuss numbers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think they got at that level of discussion.
Q Did Mori speak English?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister does not speak good English, so I think this was done primarily through a translator.
Q Regarding Okinawa, was there any mentioning of base issues by either side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It didn't come up in a substantive way, no.
Q When the President said during the photo op, when he said that he would like to talk with the people of Okinawa, are you planning on some type of direct speech to the Okinawan people? Or what are the expectations when you go there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're still working through the trip agenda, Mike, so I don't know that we have -- obviously, I think there will be an opportunity for all of the G-8 leaders to have some interaction with the Okinawan people. But I don't know exactly how that's going to be undertaken.
Q Who else was in the meeting from the U.S. side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The U.S. side included the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger; the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright; Charlene Barshefsky, the Trade Representative; the Chief of Staff, John Podesta; Gene Sperling.
Q As this will be the President's final G-8, do you have any understanding as to whether he's bringing some kind of special agenda to this meeting? Is he looking for some kind of special achievements there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, this -- I think it's yet another example of the President's emphasis, you know, going back seven and a half years, on globalization. And we continue to work on how we can help work internationally to bring greater assistance. The issues that we've had here, that we've seen in terms of domestically, that we have now put on the international agenda -- trying to alleviate poverty; trying to expand educational opportunities; international health issues, obviously AIDS among others will be one of those topics of discussion. So, how we have worked through the G-8 process over seven and a half years to kind of a common, international, globalized agenda for helping marshal the kind of international resources -- you know, on conflict resolution in particular regions.
So I think there's been a kind of a consistent agenda that the President has pushed, and other countries have adopted, that you've seen throughout the G-8 as you reflect back on how the President has interacted with his fellow G-7, G-8 leaders during the course of his administration.
Q Doesn't sound like there's anything special. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. A ringing endorsement, Mark.
Q You deserved it.
Q Did they talk about the video? Did they talk about the video?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The video?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. I don't know. I know that I think the Prime Minister has the opportunity to have seen it. And I was told by a source that he got a kick out of it.
Q Is there a state visit as well to Japan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not here to make any special pronouncements. But we will be doing more in the region besides just the G-8 summit. But I'm not --
Q Other countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, I think we will be going to Tokyo. I wouldn't rule out other countries as well.
Q Any word on the Korean peninsula, especially summit meeting by South and North Korea? It will be held in June.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they briefly touched on regional security issues, but I don't think they got into anything substantive on Korea.
Q You said that they talked about the Japanese economy. How did the President perceive Prime Minister Mori's explanation of the Japanese economy, and did it seem hopeful, did either party seem hopeful that there might be a resolution to the telecommunication issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think this is about sharing philosophies about what we've seen in our country, and how marshaling the same kind of stimulus that comes through information technology can be helpful to the Japanese economy, could have direct benefits to the Japanese people that can be a growth stimulus for Japan.
But beyond that, I don't think they got down to the level of working through specific details. That they will leave to their respective trade teams.
Q So there weren't any signs that there might be some type of breakthrough that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think this was a matter of both leaders noting that it's an issue that we still have to work through.
Q Did the President urge any specific steps on Prime Minister Mori to revive Japan's economy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think they got to that level of detail.
Q Did they discuss about human genome sequence?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. Again, I think they went through, broadly, the agenda items that the Prime Minister and President hope will spark a most informative, instructive and productive summit, but I'm not sure they went through, ticked off every single item.
Q Thank you.
Q Did they discuss his predecessor, Mr. Obuchi?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President, I think, also again continued to express our great sympathy to the Japanese people on behalf of the American people regarding former Prime Minister Obuchi.
I would add, while this was the first time that they've had a chance to get to know each other in a substantial way, I understand that years ago, when Prime Minister Mori was trade minister, the President had sent an autographed baseball to Prime Minister Mori, which he brought back to the meeting today, and noted -- and then, the President, having understood that Prime Minister Mori has become an American football fan, autographed an American football and provided it to the Prime Minister during the course of today's meeting.
They did have the opportunity to get to know each other very well, and I think are well on their way to having a very comfortable relationship.
Q Whose autograph is on the baseball?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President's.
Q The President's autograph on the baseball?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Why did he send it? Why did he give him the baseball?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think through great high-level, diplomatic exchanges, we had come to understand --
Q He brought it back?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. The Prime Minister, years ago, through an intermediary, had received a baseball signed by the President, and had valued it, brought it back to the meeting today, and --
Q Was he trying to return it? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am made to understand the Prime Minister still proudly possesses his baseball, and now has an accompanying football to go along with it. The President also provided him some White House golf balls.
Q How many years ago? Five? Six?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think about, back in '93 -- '93.
Q Did he sign the golf balls as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. (Laughter.) I think, like the President, I think he hopes he has an opportunity to use them on the golf courses.
Q Now, all the G-8 leaders are going to want one. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have to be football fans first.
Q Are there any other bilateral issues --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They went through -- they reaffirmed the importance of our security relationship, the importance of the special friendship between the two countries. I don't know that they got into that many specifics.
Q Any mention about trade deficits against Japan? It's --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it was more in the context of -- not specifically that I understand, but I think it was more in the context of both appreciating the value of a new WTO round.
Q Was Larry Summers in the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q How important is this meeting in the grand scheme of U.S.-Japan relations, given that there are elections that are scheduled --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously it's a very special relationship, it's an important relationship, and as G-7, G-8 partners, I think we appreciated the Prime Minister reaching out to the President and to the other leaders to try to come to a common understanding of the G-8 agenda, so that it can be that much more productive when they get together in Okinawa this July.
Q How do you see the Mori administration? Do you see it as a sort of a caretaker administration until the elections?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He is the Prime Minister. It's important for the President and Prime Minister to have a good working relationship, and I think they have achieved that foundation today.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:55 A.M. EDT