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JAPAN SAYS SPY RUMORS ARE OF `GRAVE CONCERN’ IF TRUE

SHARE JAPAN SAYS SPY RUMORS ARE OF `GRAVE CONCERN’ IF TRUE

Japan said Monday that its relations with Washington could be seriously damaged if a report that the CIA spied on Japanese representatives at auto talks proves true.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the CIA eavesdropped on conversations between Japanese negotiators and automakers during the talks in Geneva this year, reporting the results daily to U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor."If true, I'm afraid this is a matter of grave concern that might seriously affect our diplomatic relations," said deputy chief Cabinet secretary Hiroyuki Sonoda.

The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Koken Nosaka, said Japan will ask Washington to respond.

"In order to maintain trust between the two countries, it is only natural for us to ask the U.S. government to clarify the report," Nosaka said.

Trade Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who reportedly was spied on, said the report "does not make me very happy."

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama reacted mildly, saying any espionage would not have affected the outcome of the talks.

According to the report, Kantor was provided with summaries of conversations between Japanese bureaucrats and executives from Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co.

Toyota called the alleged eavesdropping "unthinkable," but refused to comment further.

Critics of the CIA's secret information-gathering for the Commerce and Treasury departments and the U.S. trade office say the material gathered over the past few years has not been all that valuable.

In the case of the Japanese luxury car imports, intelligence proved of limited use in predicting what steps the Japanese side was willing to take to reach an accord. The agreement chipped away at market barriers without removing them, and the United States was seen by many as the overall loser.

Before the talks, the United States had threatened billions of dollars in sanctions against Japanese luxury autos. The threat was not carried out.