SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka apologized to prisoners of war taken during the Japanese march across Asia during World War II as her country and the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the treaty that officially ended the war.
Though a Japanese prime minister made a similar apology in 1995, it was the first such gesture on U.S. soil that singled out POWs.
``The war has left incurable scars on many people, including former prisoners of war,'' Tanaka said. ``I reaffirm today our feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology.''
Tanaka and Secretary of State Colin Powell spent the day shuttling between commemorative ceremonies and meeting to discuss security and economic issues.
On Sept. 8, 1951, delegates gathered in San Francisco to sign treaties reinstating Japanese sovereignty and cementing a defense pact that remains a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.
``Our alliance is a living, breathing reality,'' Powell said in a speech at the War Memorial Opera House, where the one-time enemies gathered to sign the peace treaty. ``Japan is our Pacific anchor.''
Tanaka spoke before him, offering the carefully worded apology. His statement did not mollify members of Veterans for Justice, a group seeking reparations from Japanese companies.
'``Deeply remorseful' is not saying, 'Hey, I apologize,''' said Lester Tenney, who worked in a Japanese coal mine after his capture. ``You know what, I am deeply remorseful also.''
Outside the Opera House, hundreds of protesters chanted, banged drums and held signs calling for Japanese apologies and reparations. They represented Chinese whose families were slaughtered during Japanese occupation and Asian women forced into sexual slavery.
Under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan was not required to compensate the nations it attacked. American negotiators agreed to those terms because they wanted Japan to develop as an ally against communism in East Asia.
American POWs have sued Japanese companies, seeking compensation for their forced labor. The State Department has argued in U.S. courts that the treaty precludes Japan from compensating American prisoners of war. Powell reiterated that position to Tanaka over a working lunch.
``The treaty dealt with this matter 50 years ago ... it's a position we have to defend,'' Powell told reporters. ``At the same time, we have the utmost compassion for these veterans.''
Both sides hailed the treaties as remarkable economic and political successes.
Japan has become the world's second largest economy and an important U.S. export market. Despite a prolonged recession, Japanese firms have invested heavily in the United States.
While the economic ties still bind, Japanese leaders have begun to question other aspects of the relationship.
There is growing debate in Tokyo over revising the U.S.-written constitution to loosen the limitation that Japan cannot field anything more than a Self-Defense Force.
Japanese officials also increasingly criticize the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa, where in June another in a string of servicemen was accused of raping a local woman.
Powell said U.S. Marines on Okinawa must be better guests. Japan is host to about 47,000 U.S. military service people under a separate treaty.
``We can always work to make the lives of our gracious hosts as little interrupted as possible,'' he said.
In Tokyo on Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised to strengthen Japan's alliance with the United States.
``The Japan-U.S. alliance has become more important than ever, not only for the two countries but also for the Asia-Pacific region and the entire world,'' Koizumi told a group gathered in Tokyo to commemorate the treaty.
``Both Japan and the United States play a crucial role in the international community,'' Koizumi said. ``Japan will strengthen cooperation in broad areas with the U.S. through close dialogue in order to contribute to world peace and prosperity.''
President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Koizumi next month.