WASHINGTON -- President Clinton bluntly warned Foreign Minister Yohei Kono of Japan yesterday that if Tokyo did not reach agreements with the United States in the next week on opening Japanese markets, the administration would consider imposing trade sanctions on Tokyo.
The president and the foreign minister met in the Oval Office for nearly an hour, accompanied by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor -- a gallery of power players meant to underscore to the Japanese visitor how seriously the administration takes this issue.
By talking tough on Japan, the White House was probably also sending a message to Congress. Taking a hard line against Tokyo is good politics for the Clinton administration at a time when it is desperately trying to win congressional approval for the new global free-trade accord, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Many Democrats are uneasy about voting for the agreement, and it is much easier for them to side with the administration if the White House appears to be squeezing the Japanese at the same time it is asking Congress to approve another accord liberalizing trade.
Both Japanese and U.S. officials said ideas were exchanged yesterday, but that there was still no breakthrough in the efforts to reach an agreement on opening Japan's markets in insurance, glass, autos, auto parts and government purchases of telecommunications and medical equipment.
The Clinton administration has said it was prepared to impose economic sanctions on Japan, as provided under the Super 301 and Title VII provisions of U.S. trade laws, if no agreement was reached by Sept. 30. Mr. Clinton reiterated that position yesterday.
The president stressed "his firm commitment to opening Japanese markets to American goods and services," the White House said after the meeting with Mr. Kono. "The president emphasized that unless agreements are reached under the framework agreement by the Sept. 30 deadline, he will have to consider remedies under U.S. trade laws."
This virtually committed the president to adopt trade sanctions against Tokyo if the talks fail; otherwise, his own credibility on this issue would be shattered.
Market analysts said billions of dollars in bets were being placed in the world currency markets, with some traders expecting a breakthrough and others anticipating a breakdown in talks.