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Bush warmly welcomes Koizumi as friend

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, June 29 (Reuters) President George W Bush welcomed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as a good friend today and thanked Japan for support in Iraq and handling common threats like terrorism and North Korea.

The visit, which will include a joint trip to Graceland to tour the home of Elvis Presley, is being billed as a ''sayonara summit'' because Koizumi is to step down in September.

At an arrival ceremony at the White House, both leaders expressed their strong friendship, which began during a game of catch at Camp David in 2001.

''Decades ago, our two fathers looked across the Pacific and saw adversaries, uncertainty and war. Today, their sons look across that same ocean and see friends and opportunity and peace,'' Bush said.

While today's events included an arrival ceremony on the White House lawn, a press conference and a formal dinner, a highlight will be the trip to Memphis for Koizumi, who is a big fan of Elvis.

''Officially, he's here to see the president, but I know the highlight of his visit will be paying his respects to the King,'' Bush joked.

The wavy-haired Koizumi, 64, is seen in Japan as a maverick with keen political instincts. His affinity for baseball and cowboy movies have endeared him to Bush.

Standing next to Bush at the arrival ceremony, he waved to a group of children holding flags and advised them learn both English and Japanese.

One 10-year-old remarked afterward that he though the prime minister was ''really cool.'' Koizumi said over the past five years there was no other world leader with which he had felt such ''heart-to-heart,'' deep friendship and trust as with Bush.

CHEMISTRY ''There is no doubt that the Koizumi-Bush chemistry has been really important personally to the president, personally to Koizumi and for the strength of the US-Japan alliance,'' said Michael Green, a Japan expert and former White House official.

But Green said he believed the bilateral relationship would remain solid well after Koizumi steps down and will be helped by the fact that both leading candidates to succeed Koizumi have served as top officials in his government.

Despite political risks at home, Koizumi sent troops to Iraq in Japan's most dangerous overseas deployment since World War Two, though it has begun pulling out its 550 troops from the southern Iraqi city of Samawa.

''Bush will go out of his way to praise Koizumi and his record of support in Iraq,'' said Claude Barfield, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. In general, he said, ''I don't think there's a big substantive agenda.'' The two leaders are in sync in their concerns about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Amid talk Pyongyang may be preparing to test a long-range missile, Barfield said the leaders could issue a joint warning to the North to refrain from doing so.

Some political analysts worry that anger among China and South Korea over Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine might hamper the effort to build unity over the approach on North Korea.

The shrine is seen in Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism because convicted war criminals are among those honored. But Bush has kept out of that issue for the most part, urging the countries to look past historic disputes.

Reuters CH GC2000

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