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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bases Loom Over Hashimoto Visit

TOKYO -- Plans to scale back U.S. military bases on the Japanese island of Okinawa topped the agenda of Friday's first summit between Japan's new Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Clinton.

Okinawans were outraged over the rape of a local schoolgirl in September, allegedly by three U.S. servicemen, and they have held large protests to demand the removal of the nearly 30,000 U.S. troops on Okinawa. A verdict in the rape case is due March 7.

The United States and Japan are hoping that a realignment of bases, to be announced when Clinton visits Tokyo in April, will placate Okinawa.

Although Japanese officials have insisted Hashimoto's meeting with Clinton in Santa Monica, California, is just a getting-to-know-you encounter, the two leaders no doubt will be assessing each other's positions on the bases question.

Hashimoto took office last month at a time of transformation for the U.S.-Japan security alliance, long a bedrock against communism in Asia. Whatever form the alliance eventually takes, it will be shaped by Clinton and Hashimoto.

Like Clinton, the Japanese prime minister faces upcoming elections, probably this fall and certainly by the summer of 1997. If his Liberal Democratic Party can overcome voter concerns about Japan's sluggish economy and the huge bad-loan mess at the nation's banks, Hashimoto may well lead Japan into the next century.

No one is quite sure which way the alliance is headed. U.S. officials, including Ambassador Walter Mondale, have stressed its importance in defending Japan against North Korea.

?A planned summit between Japan and South Korea during an upcoming meeting of Asian and European leaders will be shelved because of a simmering territorial dispute, officials said Friday.

South Korean President Kim Young-sam and Japanese Prime Minister Rhutaro Hashimoto had planned to meet during the summit of leaders from 25 Asian and European countries, scheduled March 1 to 2 in Bangkok.

But the Kim-Hashimoto meeting is endangered by disputes over a group of rocky islets in the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea.

Japanese government spokesman Seiroku Kajiyama said Thursday that Japan "hopes'' for a meeting but isn't optimistic that it will happen.

Relations between South Korea and Japan chilled this month after each renewed territorial claims to an outcropping of volcanic rock, called Tok-do by the Koreans and Takeshima by the Japanese. South Korea announced plans to build a wharf on the disputed islets. Japan immediately protested. Seoul countered by staging a naval and air exercise in the area. Angry South Koreans burned effigies of Japanese leaders and the Japanese flag.