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President Obama crossed an ocean to meet with his Japanese counterpart today and together the two men say they covered a lot of ground. They agreed to work on climate change, clean energy, as well as nuclear disarmament.
But as NPRs Scott Horsley reports, theres plenty of room for disagreement, too, with Americans longtime Asian ally.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama is just getting to know Japans new prime minister. Yukio Hatoyama has been in office less than three months, but already the two leaders seemed to have a good deal in common. By the end of todays 90-minute meeting, the president and prime minister were on a first name basis.
President BARACK OBAMA: Both Yukio and I were elected on a promise of change, but there should be no doubt as we move our nations in a new direction, our alliance will endure and our efforts will be focused on revitalizing that friendship so that its even stronger and more successful in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
HORSLEY: But as with any new partnership, this ones taking some getting used to. After almost 50 years in which Japan was run by just one political party, the LDP, Hatoyama represents a new direction, and hes insisting on a more equal partnership with the U.S. Jeffrey Bader, who oversees East Asian affairs for the National Security Council, says the U.S. welcomes that change, but it does mean a period of adjustment.
Mr. JEFFREY BADER (East Asian Affairs, National Security Council): The relationship with Japan, long the cornerstone and still the cornerstone of the U.S. security presence in East Asia, is not one we can take for granted. The world has changed, America has changed and Japan has changed.
HORSLEY: Long-standing complaints about the U.S. military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa are getting a more sympathetic hearing from Japans new government. The U.S. has agreed to put the issue to a high-level working group. Hatoyama said, through a translator, he wants them to work quickly.
Mr. YUKIO HATOYAMA (Prime Minister, Japan): (Through translator) It will be a very difficult issue for sure, but as time goes by, I think it will become even more difficult to resolve the issue.
HORSLEY: The Obama administration downplayed any differences over Okinawa, stressing instead areas where the U.S. and Japan are already working together, such as Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Japan pledged $5 billion in civilian aid to Afghanistan. Its also agreed to accelerate joint research projects with the U.S. into clean energy in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. And Japan is a key ally in the effort to keep Iran and North Korea from developing more nuclear weapons.
Pres. OBAMA: Now, obviously, Japan has a unique perspective on the issue of nuclear weapons as a consequence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that, Im sure, helps to motivate the prime ministers deep interest in this issue.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama sidestepped a reporters question about whether the United States was justified in using nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II. He did say hed like to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the future. Japan is only the first stop on what will be an eight-day, four-nation tour of Asia for the president. He said Americas security and prosperity is inextricably tied to this fast-growing region.
Pres. OBAMA: Throughout my trip and throughout my presidency, I intend to make clear that the United States is a Pacific nation. And we will be deepening our engagement in this part of the world.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama spent relatively little time here in Japan talking about the global economy. But thats likely to be one of his biggest topics at his next stop with leaders from throughout the Pacific region in Singapore.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, with the president in Tokyo.
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