Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced deep regret on Wednesday for a U.S. Marine's alleged rape of a 14-year-old Japanese girl, a case that has sparked outrage and official condemnation in Japan.
"We just regret deeply that this happened," Rice told reporters at the start of a one-day trip to Japan. "(It) is very hard to see something like this happen and it's especially hard because it involves a young girl."
A 38-year-old Marine, Tyrone Hadnott, has been arrested on suspicion of raping the girl in a car on Okinawa island, where the bulk of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based. Police have said he denied rape but admitted forcing her to kiss him.
The incident has revived bitter memories of the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl on the southern Japanese island in 1995, which sparked huge protests against U.S. bases and raised doubts about the bilateral security alliance.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has called the latest incident "unforgivable" and demanded tighter military discipline, but both the U.S. and Japanese governments have moved swiftly to try to limit the diplomatic fallout.
Asked if the case might harm the U.S.-Japanese alliance, Rice replied: "We certainly hope that there will not be lasting effects. It's a long-standing and strong alliance.
"But our concern right now is to see that justice is done, to get to the bottom of it, and our concern is for the girl and for her family," she added.
Rice was visiting Japan after attending the inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul on Monday and discussing how to end North Korea's nuclear programs with Chinese officials in Beijing on Tuesday.
She was scheduled to see Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba on Wednesday. She returns to Washington on Thursday after a brief meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is also visiting Japan.