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Clinton Ends Trip with Positive Note on U.S.-Japan Auto Trading

By Kevin Sullivan
The Washington Post

Ten months after a series of bitter auto trade negotiations with Japan, President Clinton toured a Chrysler dealership here Thursday, puttered under the hood of a car built in Illinois, and said he was "feeling very good" about U.S. automakers' chances in the Japanese market.

For years, the auto trade talks have symbolized the frustrations of Americans trying to do business in Japan, and Clinton's administration has focused considerable energy on prying open the market here.

But when mentioning trade during his two-day state visit this week, Clinton has been nothing but sunny. In his 30-minute showroom tour - the only trade-related event on his schedule and his last stop before leaving for Russia - Clinton chatted with cheerful, photogenic Japanese families, while first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton checked out the bucket seats in a sporty red coupe.

The Japanese are still annoyed about President George Bush's 1992 visit here, accompanied by executives of the Big Three automakers. To the Japanese, Bush seemed more car salesman than statesman, while Clinton, by glossing over a whole range of trade frictions between the nations, has charmed and delighted the nation this week.

Outside the dealership, crowds waited for Clinton, shouting "Kurinton-san! Kurinton-san" and "We want Bill! We want Bill!" They whooped and cheered and whistled when Clinton appeared, and they screamed even louder for the first lady.

Clinton is also appealing to voters at home. It is positive campaigning: rather than hammering the Japanese over insurance, film, semiconductors and other trade problems, Clinton has stressed his successes, claiming that his administration has steered U.S.-Japanese trade relations in the most positive direction in years.

Clinton told audiences this week that the 21 trade deals struck by his administration and Japan in the last three years have yielded strong results.