THERE IS NO TURNING BACK

Junichiro Koizumi spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christian Caryl and Hideko Takayama in a special reception room in the Kantei, the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. Excerpts: On George W. Bush as a leader:

President Bush has been showing leadership in fighting a new kind of war. I have great respect for him for doing that. The decision to embark on a war must be a most agonizing one. It is about sending young men and women to a faraway battlefield with the possibility that they will have to shed their blood. But, of course, there is no way he could give in to terrorism as leader of the world community. So he's been engaged in continuous efforts to establish a democratic government in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

That said, I think there is a need for the U.S. to engage in greater cooperation with the international community. Japan would never wish to become an irresponsible country that would advocate international cooperation while doing nothing itself. Japan would not--unlike the United States or Britain--engage in combat operations to wipe out insurgents in Iraq, nor would we participate in security activities on the ground. So we intend to do our utmost in terms of assisting Iraq's reconstruction--and Afghanistan's--in ways that would be different from what the U.S. is doing.

On normalizing ties with North Korea:

Let me say that there is no haste to normalize relations with North Korea. The only thing I'm saying is that the earlier, the better. If you ask me, "Would normalization be possible in, say, one year or two years?" I think what makes sense is for us to strive toward that end.

On his stated plan to step down in 2006:

Yes, I am stepping down.

On ensuring the continuity of his reforms:

We have to make sure that there will be no going back on the Koizumi reforms. We should continue to leave what the private sector can do to the private sector and to leave what the different regions of the country can do to those regions. We have one more year to ensure privatization of the postal system, and we will strive to make that a reality. Once we have that enshrined in law, I think it will be very difficult to turn it back.

l On his own recalcitrant ruling party:

Although they raise voices of opposition, in reality they have been cooperating with me. The program on reducing nonperforming loans has been proceeding as planned. Viewed from overseas, this situation must be mystifying. Both ruling and opposition parties are against my proposals for the privatization of the highway corporation, for the privatization of the postal system--so how can it be possible that I am moving ahead on both? The Liberal Demo-cratic Party will be opposed but in the end will cooperate, whereas the opposition will not.

On leadership style:

There is a rather interesting criticism from both the ruling and the opposition camps. One criticism is that Koizumi is a dictator. The other is that I delegate everything, dump everything on other people and leave it to them. I think that as a leader you need elements of both. But the leader must also be wise enough to know when to use which. People who criticize me often say, "Koizumi hasn't got a vision, he hasn't got general principles." But I think that anybody can talk about vision. Everybody says, "Let's revitalize the economy, let's work on structural reform." Everybody says that.

You listen to speeches during the election by both President Bush and Senator Kerry, and they all say the same thing: "Make the U.S. stronger, safer more prosperous." Anyone can say that. And, in fact, everyone from the LDP to the Communist Party can say that sort of thing about Japan. So the Devil is in the detail, and it is I, Koizumi, who has really pursued the specifics of reform.

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