Olmert set to meet Rice in Japan

Tokyo expected to push peace deal; will listen to nuclear arms concerns.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves on Sunday for a four-day official trip to Japan, during which, Japanese officials say, Tokyo will press him to make every possible effort to clinch a peace deal with the Palestinians by the end of this year. In addition to his talks with Japanese leaders, the prime minister is also expected to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is also scheduled to be in Japan this week. Olmert's discussions with Rice are expected to address developments in the Gaza Strip amid US and European concern over the humanitarian situation on the ground and the possibility of a major IDF incursion. Topics slated for discussion with the Japanese include developments in peace talks with the Palestinians and efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities. Japan, a firm opponent of nuclear proliferation, is interested to hear Israel's opinion on the Iranian nuclear threat and on whether nuclear knowhow has been exported from North Korea to the Middle East, particularly to Syria. Japan is the rotating president of the G8 and the question of nuclear nonproliferation will be one of the main issues at the G8 foreign ministers' meeting in June, as well as at the G8 summit the following month. Another purpose of Olmert's trip to Japan will be to boost bilateral economic ties. The prime minister will be accompanied by a 24-member business delegation. Japan's deputy ambassador to Israel, Kuninori Matsuda, told The Jerusalem Post that Tokyo was particularly interested in improving trade in hi-tech, automobiles, information technology and robotics. The prime minister will also discuss during his meetings the possibility of inaugurating direct flights between the two countries. Last year, some 12,000 Israelis visited Japan, while some 11,000 Japanese visited Israel. Prior to the second intifada, an average of 20,000 Japanese tourists came to Israel annually.