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Japan vows to block U.S. flights


TOKYO -- Reacting angrily to Washington's threat of sanctions on Japanese airlines, the Japanese government has begun planning to retaliate by blocking some flights from the United States.

Japan is contemplating prohibiting certain cargo flights of Federal Express and Northwest Airlines that originate in the United States from continuing beyond Japan to other Asian nations, Japanese officials and aviation industry executives said yesterday.

"Japan will inevitably be forced to impose appropriate countermeasures if the U.S. actually imposes sanctions," Shizuka Kamei, the minister of transportation, said in a statement. He called it regrettable that Washington had announced possible sanctions, even though his government had been trying to resolve the issue by negotiations.

Another ministry official said the retaliatory measures could be announced as early as today.

Such steps would be taken in response to the announcement in Washington Monday that the United States had started actions to bar certain Japanese cargo flights to the United States in retaliation for Tokyo's refusal to let Federal Express strengthen its operations between Japan and other Asian nations, using facilities at Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Tokyo says a three-decade-old agreement governing aviation between it and the United States is unfair and should be renegotiated.

Japanese officials said they still hoped to resolve the matter through diplomacy, as the American sanctions do not take effect until the second half of next month at the earliest. If Japan imposed sanctions of its own, however, the tensions could increase.

There was also some concern that the aviation dispute could disrupt negotiations to resolve the impasse over the automotive trade.

Officially, the United States and Japan both say that the aviation and auto issues are separate. But it seemed clear that in announcing the proposed aviation sanctions three days before last-ditch auto negotiations were to begin, Washington was sending a message to Tokyo.

That message might well cause the Japanese to stiffen their position, at a time it seemed there had been some movement toward compromise in the auto talks.

The session on cars and car parts is to take place in Geneva tomorrow and Friday. If there is no agreement to open Japanese markets by June 28, 100 percent tariffs on the import of 13 Japanese luxury cars into the United States will take effect.

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