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3RD LD: Obama lauds Japan as 'great partner,' to boost ties on world issues+
[February 24, 2009]

3RD LD: Obama lauds Japan as 'great partner,' to boost ties on world issues+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) WASHINGTON, Feb. 24_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: RECASTING WITH QUOTES IN 1ST-4TH GRAFS) U.S. President Barack Obama lauded Japan as a "great partner" in taking up global issues ranging from climate change to Afghanistan and told Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in their first meeting Tuesday that the bilateral alliance is a cornerstone of East Asian security.

Aso thanked Obama for hosting him as the new administration's first foreign leader guest at the White House and stressed the need for the world's two largest economies to join hands in tackling the global economic meltdown.

At the outset of their talks, which were open to the press, Obama also said the invitation is evidence of the firm partnership between the two allies and that his administration hopes to reinforce their alliance.

Obama, who noted in his opening remarks the opportunities for the two nations to cooperate on issues not only in the pan-Pacific region but also worldwide, is likely to try to prod Japan into playing a bigger global role.

But with the Japanese premier's support ratings having plunged to critical levels at home and many believing he may not be able to cling to office for much longer, expectations for concrete results are low.

The talks came shortly before Obama addresses a joint session of Congress to outline his domestic and foreign policy agenda.

Aimed at sending a message of close cooperation between the two economic powers in the face of the financial crisis, the leaders are expected to agree to implement appropriate measures to spur their economies and secure budgets to help developing nations and international financial organizations overcome the crisis.

They will also coordinate measures and work together in preparing for the Group of 20 financial summit in London on April 2.

Meanwhile, Aso will likely seek a commitment from Obama to fight protectionism and reiterate Japan's concerns over the "Buy American" provision in the $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus package signed into law by Obama last week.

To demonstrate Tokyo's support for the U.S.-led fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, for which Obama recently approved an additional deployment of 17,000 troops, Japan is expected to agree to take part in a U.S. review of its comprehensive strategy on Afghanistan for stabilizing the war-torn country.

Aso will also convey plans to appoint a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan to better coordinate aid and other assistance there, as well as to work with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

He is also expected to announce plans to provide fresh aid, including low-interest loans, to Pakistan, which Japan considers a "front-line state" in fighting terrorism, especially given its long border with Afghanistan.

In return, Obama will likely reaffirm high-level participation at a donor conference on Pakistan eyed for April or after in Tokyo.

But given the domestic political turmoil and constraints under Japan's pacifist Constitution, such as on the use of force and weapons by the Self-Defense Forces, critics said it will be difficult for Aso to commit to personnel dispatches as former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did in Iraq for Obama's predecessor George W. Bush.

On North Korea, Japan will reiterate the need to resolve not only the nuclear standoff but also to deal comprehensively with Pyongyang's missile threats and abductions of Japanese citizens.

To that end, Aso and Obama are expected to reaffirm close bilateral and multilateral cooperation at the stalled six-party denuclearization talks which also involve North and South Korea, China and Russia.

Japan, which was upset last year when then President Bush erased North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism before the North had fully addressed the abductions, will probably seek the Obama administration's cooperation on pressing Pyongyang to reinvestigate and come clean over the dozen or more unresolved cases.

Also on the agenda is global warming, an issue on which the two allies have much closer positions now than during Bush's presidency, and Aso and Obama are expected to agree to work together in forming a post-2012 global emissions cut protocol, including exploring ways to win cooperation from China and others.

Japan is eager for both the United States and China, the world's top two emitters, to take part so that the new framework after the current Kyoto Protocol expires can be effective.

With Obama placing emphasis on clean energy, including in the economic stimulus measures, Aso is expected to propose that Japan and the United States combine their expertise to further develop new alternative energies, promote the use of hybrid and other next generation vehicles, expand markets for energy efficient products and boost peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The aim is to help create jobs in both countries while also contributing to carbon emissions reduction, Japanese officials said.

The leaders ware also likely to reaffirm plans to steadily implement a roadmap to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan by 2014 to reduce local burdens, as stipulated in an agreement signed between the two nations' foreign ministers last week when Hillary Clinton visited Japan on her overseas debut as secretary of state.

After the talks with Obama, Aso will meet former U.S. senior officials, including John Hamre, president of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Aso will then pay tribute at the Arlington Cemetery and meet Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye before departing for Tokyo in the evening.

The beleaguered prime minister, just five months into office, arrived in Washington on Monday night with his approval ratings having plunged to critically low levels, at 13.4 percent in a Kyodo News poll, and the Japanese economy suffering from its worst postwar crisis.

Calls from not only the opposition but within his own ruling coalition have been mounting for him to step down or call an early general election, which may possibly end the Liberal Democratic Party's over half-century in power.

Growing anxiety within the LDP about losing a general election this year became all the more clear when a Cabinet minister suggested Tuesday in Tokyo that Aso reshuffle the Cabinet to regain public support.

Meanwhile, Obama, who held talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa last week on his first international trip, is set to meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Washington on March 3 to discuss the financial crisis and prepare for the upcoming London summit.

Copyright ? 2009 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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