U.S.-Japan Ties Strained by North Korea Delisting

Most nations are applauding George W. Bush's late-term embrace of talking to U.S. enemies, with the notable exception of Japan. Even Europe, once the epicenter of Bush bashing, will grudgingly praise his latest concessions on climate change. And the Middle East can take some comfort in Bush's new willingness to send envoys to talk to Iran. But Japan, never a loud critic of 43, is infuriated at his decision to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of nations that support terrorism.

So why does Tokyo oppose the deal, when North Korea has agreed to continue to dismantle its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon and let international inspectors back onto the site—an apparent step back from the brink that was greeted warmly by North Korea's other big neighbors, China and South Korea? Because Japan ties progress in denuclearization talks to its demand that Pyongyang account for some 12 Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean spies back in the 1970s. A member of Prime Minister Taro Aso's cabinet called the U.S. deal "extremely regrettable"—diplospeak for "blood-boiling"—and just prior to the delisting, a call between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone turned ugly when Nakasone expressed outrage over the move. The result is that Bush's discovery of peace talks may leave his successor to patch up relations with America's most important Asian ally.