Can a Little Sushi Help Seal a Deal?

Will this be a ``Bill-Mori'' summit?

Japanese officials hope that President Clinton has warmed up enough to Premier Morihiro Hosokawa after two previous meetings to call him by an informal name. The Japanese, who prize personal relationships in doing business, have come to measure the stability of ties between the US and Japan by such summit closeness.

Officials in Tokyo often talk of the warmness between President Reagan and Premier Yasuhiro Nakasone during most of the 1980s. Both were conservatives in their parties. But Mr. Reagan made little headway in opening Japan's markets.

Clinton himself has noted his similarities with Mr. Hosokawa. They are both relatively young, reformist, former governors who took office in 1993. They also have maintained high popularity with a sometimes self-conscious charismatic flair. Both are longtime admirers of John F. Kennedy. Hosokawa speaks enough English for cordiality with Clinton, but not enough for negotiating.

With Hosokawa's predecessor, the elderly and statesman-like Kiichi Miyazawa who did speak English well, Clinton sat down in a Tokyo sushi bar last July to hammer out a trade deal. But only a few months earlier, the tall US president was seen on television scowling at the short Mr. Miyazawa during a joint press conference, talking tough on trade.

Sometimes summit comradery can backfire. On his trip to Tokyo in January 1992, President Bush collapsed at a dinner, falling on Miyazawa's lap in an embarrassing image that tainted the whole summit. The event made officials more careful in scripting these close encounters between economic giants.

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