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Fueling trade battle, Nissan chief calls Detroit's actions 'incomprehensible'


TOKYO -- In tones reflecting the increasingly combative exchanges between Japan and the United States, the head of a Japanese auto group said yesterday it was "incomprehensible" that Detroit had not accepted Tokyo's offer to buy $19 billion more in U.S.-made auto parts.

Yutaka Kume, president of Nissan Motor Co. and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said top Japanese executives "have no intention" of discussing the issue again with the Big Three U.S. automakers.

His comments virtually erased any hopes of continuing discussions among the world's biggest automakers about how to close the trade gap between the countries.

Three weeks ago, during President Bush's trade mission to Japan, Mr. Kume had said that the two sides should meet annually.

Also at that time, Harold A. Poling, chairman of Ford Motor Co., said he wanted Japan's auto executives to visit their U.S. counterparts in Detroit next month.

Meeting yesterday with a few foreign reporters who had gathered at his suggestion, the usually cautious-sounding Mr. Kume said he was particularly disturbed that after returning to the United States, "the Big Three and other business leaders made remarks that indicate anti-Japanese emotions."

He said their comments "diluted the efficacy of the president's visit."

The Japanese automakers have said they plan to go ahead with plans to nearly double purchases of U.S.-made auto parts by 1994. But they have all but closed the door on increasing those purchases beyond the $19 billion figure made public during Mr. Bush's visit.

Mr. Kume suggested yesterday that further meetings between Japanese and U.S. auto executives would pose antitrust problems -- though the meeting earlier this month presumably raised the same problems -- and suggested that the two sides had little new they could say to each other.

Mr. Kume reserved his harshest words for Lee A. Iacocca, chairman and chief executive of Chrysler Corp., who has been among the toughest critics of Japanese trade practices.

"In the international business arena, Mr. Iacocca's behavior and comments are outrageous and insulting to us," Mr. Kume said. "I can't tolerate his saying that the Japanese government is a liar."

Mr. Kume was referring to charges by Mr. Iacocca and others last week that Japan was reneging on what some U.S. officials called a "commitment" to double purchases of U.S.-made auto parts by 1994 and to sell more U.S.-made cars in Japan.

But Japanese officials, in both government and industry, have consistently referred to those figures as "targets" and said that meeting them would require major efforts by U.S. companies to attain Japanese quality standards and cut costs.

Mr. Kume's sharply worded comments yesterday underscored how quickly the tone of the U.S.-Japanese dialogue has shifted in recent weeks.

Reacting to a series of events in the United States -- from Los Angeles County's cancellation of a contract with a Japanese company for commuter rail cars to protectionist legislation in Congress -- Japanese executives are shedding their reluctance to express anger at their main trading partner.

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