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.

And on a key national security matter, Japanese ministers, like those in Europe, have also expressed uncertainty about Bush's desire to establish a nuclear missile defense system.

While officially neutral on the matter, some officials are wary of the political bind they might find themselves in if the Bush administration asks them to take a more active role in developing the system. Such participation could be expensive and might threaten the anti-war foundation of the Japanese constitution.

Article II of the constitution, written by the United States after World War II, states "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

At a press briefing this afternoon, state department spokesman Richard Boucher said President Bush already "had been looking forward" to meeting with Mori, although no date has yet been announced for a conference between the two leaders.

Boucher also said the incident should not "detract from the overall positive nature of the U.S.-Japan relationship and the importance, I think, for both of us of pursuing that relationship."

Apologies and Condolences

The collision and sinking occurred Friday, several miles from the Hawaii island of Oahu, when the USS Greeneville was practicing an emergency surfacing operation.

The Japanese boat had 35 people on board, 26 of whom scrambled into three life rafts. Rescue crews have been searching for the other nine people, but with little hope finding them.

In the aftermath of the event, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell both issued apologies and sent their condolences to Japanese leaders.

"We hope there won't be a negative effect in our relationship with Japan as a result of the accident," Powell said on Sunday. "We have expressed our apologies at every level, from the president through me, through the secretary of defense, through our military commanders."

But on Sunday, Mori lodged a protest with the United States, and has demanded that the ship be raised.

According to the Associated Press, Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Mori's spokesman, said the prime minister met with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley on Sunday and asked the United States to use "all available means" to salvage the 499-ton fishing boat.

In the meantime, U.S. leaders are expressing concern, trying to learn how the accident happened, and assuring their Japanese counterparts that the follow-up to the accident will be thorough.

"The United States government has brought the families over, and it's been putting people up and taking care of the situation," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on ABCNEWS' This Week on Sunday. "And certainly it will do the proper thing when the facts are fully sorted out."

ABCNEWS' John McWethy contributed to this report.