TOKYO – President Bush, a $1.5 billion pledge from Japan in hand, is pressing other world leaders to be generous toward war-damaged Iraq even as the White House battles demands at home that Baghdad repay some proposed American reconstruction aid.
For Japan's contribution, Bush delivered personal thanks — and a political boost — to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) at Tokyo's Akasaka Palace (search) on Friday. On a less agreeable subject concerning economic relations, Bush made clear his opposition to Japan's intervention in currency markets.
"He's a good friend, a very strong leader," Bush said after dinner at a palace annex overlooking a Japanese-style garden and small, koi-stocked pond. In traditional Japanese fashion, the guests sat on the floor, dining on a four-course meal featuring beef steak, miso soup, rice and pickles.
"Beef man," Koizumi joked about Bush. The president, usually the one dishing out nicknames, chuckled in agreement. "Beef man," he repeated.
From his brief stay in Japan, the first stop of an Asian trip, Bush was heading on Saturday to the Philippines where terrorism threats present major security concerns. The president will move through the formalities of his state visit in just eight hours, dashing off after a formal dinner at Malacanang Palace (search) to spend the night in Thailand.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search), a U.S.-educated economist, has turned to the United States for troops and spy planes to battle the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf (search) Muslim extremist group. Her country also is threatened by Jemaah Islamiyah (search), the Al Qaeda-linked terror organization blamed for last year's bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people.
Bush's visit to the Philippines is intended to reward Arroyo for her help in the war on terrorism and for contributing soldiers, police and medical workers to postwar Iraq. The president will ask how he can further help the Philippine leader, who recently had to deal with a failed mutiny by military officers.
In Tokyo, a few dozen protesters demonstrated against Bush's visit in front of the U.S. Embassy, where the president and his wife, Laura, stayed. The protesters carried anti-nuclear messages, and also condemned the U.S.-led war in Iraq and Japan's plans to help with the aftermath.
There were high political stakes for Koizumi in his meeting with Bush. On Nov. 9, Koizumi faces the first national election since he rose to power in April 2001 and, while he has strong public approval ratings, he confronts growing resistance to painful economic reforms.
Eager for a successful meeting with the president, Koizumi called their talks "very frank, meaningful, interesting, fantastic."
The leaders traded opposing views on currency rates. Bush said the markets should determine exchange rates; Koizumi said he agreed in principle but that a total hands-off approach "could be dangerous and upsetting to the markets," a U.S. official said.
U.S. manufacturers and politicians say efforts by Japan and China to keep their currencies low against the dollar are costing U.S. jobs. It is becoming a big political issue at home ahead of next year's U.S. presidential election.
While Bush crossed the Pacific, the Senate defied his wishes and voted to make Iraq eventually repay half the $20.3 billion he has requested for reconstruction. The House, though, has narrowly rejected the loan approach. And both houses gave lopsided approval Friday to his overall package of $87 billion to fight terrorism and help rebuild in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Japan pledged $1.5 billion for Iraq on the eve of Bush's trip. While Bush called it a bold move, it's just a fraction of the $13 billion that Japan contributed during the 1991 Gulf War. Japanese media said the $1.5 billion was a down payment on a $5 billion aid package through 2007 to be announced at an international donors conference next week in Spain.
After Japan's contribution, the administration adjusted its view of Bush's visit. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, earlier in the week, described it merely as a layover. In a switch, a senior administration official said en route to Japan that a visit there "is never a layover ... there is serious work to be done."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he believed Monday's meeting of leaders of Asian-Pacific nations in Bangkok, Thailand, would focus on security issues more than previous meetings had.
He commented to reporters while en route to a foreign ministers conference being held in advance of the summit meeting Bush will attend.
Powell said issues such as terrorism are not separate from trade and investment and economics.
"Business leaders will invest where they believe not only their investment is safe, but their property and their employees are safe," he said. "People will only go and tour in places and spend money in places where they feel that they are secure."