Sub Sinking Strains U.S.-Japan Relations

The accidental sinking of a Japanese fishing boat by a U.S. Navy submarine has led to the first foreign-policy storm of George W. Bush's presidency.

Friday's collision near Hawaii has left nine people missing at sea, and upset Japanese leaders, at a moment when the Bush administration was just beginning to establish relations with them.

In an effort to soothe Japanese anger over the incident, Bush called for a moment of silence in honor of "our friends, the people of Japan," before a public speech in Georgia this morning.

Meanwhile, the Navy and National Transportation Safety Board have begun investigations of the sinking, in which a surfacing submarine, the USS Greeneville, smashed into the Japanese tuna boat, the Ehime Maru. And with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori requesting the sunken ship be raised, the United States seems likely to undertake a salvage operation in about 1,800 feet of water, as well.

The Associated Press has reported that 34 relatives and friends of people on board the ship also asked U.S. officials at a meeting in Hawaii today to raise the boat.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has signaled that the United States will undertake a full inquiry into the matter and make the results open to Japanese inspection.

"We'll have to look and take a hard look at what happened, and there will be an absolutely clear and transparent investigation of this," promised Rice on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today.

Rice also said today the United States would negotiate further with Japan about that it could do to rectify the situation.

"We'll certainly want to talk to the Japanese about what they have in mind," Rice said on CBS' Early Show. "I think nothing is off the table, but we'll have to talk to them … there will be much discussion about what to do about this terribly tragic accident. We are certainly sorry and have sent our regrets and apologies to the Japanese people."

Okinawa Flap, Missile Defense Raise Tensions

The incident could present difficulties for U.S.-Japan relations during the early days of the Bush administration.

Bush, who has put domestic policy initiatives at the top of his administration's agenda, while seeming to place less significance on some foreign policy matters, had not had a chance to establish significant contact with Mori or other Japanese leaders before the incident occurred.

However, Japanese officials, after eight years of dealing with the Clinton administration, which they often perceived as more interested in U.S.-China relations, have expressed optimism about working with Bush. A spokesman for Mori said he approved of remarks made by Bush's treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, last Wednesday, just two days before the sinking.

O'Neill promised not to be critical of Japan's economic woes, saying, "Telling them to grow faster may be therapeutic for the speaker but doesn't accomplish anything."

But while both sides have expressed hope that they can develop a solid understanding on economic issues, military relations between the two countries had already gotten off to a rocky start, after a flap involving the top U.S. Marine Corps official on the island of Okinawa.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston apologized twice last week after an e-mail in which he referred to Japanese residents as "nuts" and "wimps" was made public.

The e-mail followed the January arrest of a U.S. Marine, after accusations that he made improper advances toward a 16-year-old girl in Okinawa.

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