TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Blond, blue-eyed Westerners probably can't be as successful at Middle East diplomacy as Japanese with their "yellow faces," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by media as saying on Wednesday.
"Japan is doing what Americans can't do," the Nikkei business daily quoted the gaffe-prone Aso as saying in a speech.
"Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it's probably no good," he said.
"Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."
Foreign Ministry officials were unable to comment on the report, which said Aso elaborated by saying Japan had never exploited the Middle East, started a war there or fired a shot.
Aso, seen in some circles as a contender to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if the Japanese leader runs into trouble in a July election for parliament's upper house, is known for verbal gaffes.
He offended South Korea with remarks in 2003 that were interpreted in Seoul as trying to justify some of Japan's actions during its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.
He also drew criticism in 2001 when, as economics minister, he said he hoped to make Japan the kind of country where "rich Jews" would want to live.
Aso said then he had not intended to be discriminatory.
Japan has long felt it has a special role to play in the Middle East because it lacks much of the political baggage of the United States, allowing for warmer ties with Arab nations.
Last week Tokyo hosted four-way talks aimed at working toward peace in the Middle East, involving Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories as well as Japan.
Abe's government has been battered by a series of problematic remarks by cabinet ministers this year, including the health minister's reference to women as "birth-giving machines" and Aso's own description of Washington's occupation strategy in Iraq as "immature."