WASHINGTON: It's as if the President can't leave his bureaucrats alone for
five minutes without a major international incident breaking out.
into Clinton’s Latin America trip, the
Federal Maritime Commission
’s announcement that Japanese ships would be blockaded at U.S. ports over $4 million in
unpaid harbor fines seemed to take everyone by surprise.
Senior advisers were scrambling
Friday to prevent a full-blown trade war by delaying the blockade until Saturday, or even later — allowing time for the crisis to be defused by negotiation.
"Although the Maritime Agency has acted within its powers, from
the administration's point of view it has the look of an unplanned event,"
says TIME correspondent Adam Zagorin. "I don't think the White House
intended to have a major showdown with Japan over this.
trade relationship is strategically very important, and I don't think that
either side will let it be threatened by a shipping dispute."
The same may
not be true for the tenure of the five Maritime Commission members when their five-year terms of office expire.