YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will visit two of the nation’s largest overseas military bases as part of his trip to discuss defense issues with Japanese officials.

Rumsfeld, making his first trip to east Asia since he became President Bush’s defense secretary in 2001, is to visit Yokosuka Naval Base, 43 miles from Tokyo, and Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base.

Rumsfeld also tentatively is scheduled to stop in South Korea.

The trip to Japan and South Korea, for what were expected to be talks on issues such as troops for Iraq, long-term plans for U.S. bases and the deterrence of North Korea, is to begin Saturday with meetings with Japan’s Self-Defense Agency.

The troop dispatch is controversial among Japanese. A Japanese law passed in July stipulates troops would be sent only to non-combat zones. But on Thursday Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Iraq is not yet secure enough and Japanese troops will not be sent this year.

Following the morning summit, Rumsfeld is to have a news conference followed by a noon wreath-laying ceremony at the Japan Defense Agency memorial.

He’s then scheduled to fly to Yokosuka.

There, he is to have lunch aboard the 7th Fleet flagship, USS Blue Ridge.

Lt. Marc Boyd, a 7th Fleet spokesman, said in an e-mail that Rumsfeld and a 29-member entourage would go through the serving line to get their food, then proceed to the mess decks to spend about 45 minutes eating with some 120 troops.

Boyd said the menu had not been determined but likely would be grilled steak, salmon or both.

“Both are considered regular fare,” Boyd wrote.

After lunch, Rumsfeld is to tour the ship.

On Sunday, he’s to travel to Okinawa.

Although the defense secretary’s schedule still was not set Thursday, Kadena spokesman Lt. Timothy Lundberg said Rumsfeld is expected to tour the base, be briefed on the base mission and meet troops. He also might have a meal there, Lundberg said.

He is slated to leave Okinawa on Sunday and head to Seoul, a South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman said, adding that Rumsfeld and his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Cho Yong-kil, are to hold ministry-level talks Monday. The two are scheduled to hold a joint press conference that afternoon. Separately, South Korean government official said Rumsfeld is expected to visit President Roh Moo-hyun.

Rumsfeld’s Seoul trip comes less than a week after China, South Korea and Japan all predicted a new round of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Chinese officials said Wednesday the talks might resume soon, the Japan Times reported. In a news briefing Thursday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan called it “very likely” that “the next round will take place by the end of the year.” In Japan, Fukuda said efforts are being made to hold the talks in December, the newspaper reported.

Military officials couldn’t say Thursday if Rumsfeld also would visit U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula.

— Joe Giordono contributed to this report.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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