Hatoyama, Obama agree alliance remains linchpin, to deepen further

by Mariko Yasumoto

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed Wednesday that the Japan-U.S. alliance is the foundation of the nations' security and that the countries will work closely in tackling the North Korean nuclear issue, the economic crisis and global warming, as well as working for nuclear disarmament.

But the two leaders, who met face to face for the first time on the sidelines of U.N. meetings in New York, avoided discussing potentially contentious issues, notably the realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan and Japan's refueling mission as part of its efforts to help reconstruct Afghanistan.

The summit meeting was held amid concerns both at home and abroad that a transfer of power to Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan from the Liberal Democratic Party could threaten the two nations' decades-old security alliance.

Hatoyama and Obama also agreed that the six-party framework is the ''most effective'' tool for negotiations to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Hatoyama called on Obama to cooperate on comprehensively solving the issue of the past abductions of Japanese nationals by the North, according to Japanese government officials.

Hatoyama said any outcomes from possible bilateral dialogues between Washington and Pyongyang should be reflected in the currently stalled six-party talks, which also involve China, Russia and South Korea.

In the meeting, which Hatoyama said was held in ''a very warm atmosphere,'' Obama told him he will visit Japan in November, while Hatoyama responded that his visit will be more than welcome, according to the Japanese officials.

''I told (President Obama) the Japan-U.S. alliance continues to be the central pillar of Japan's security policy,'' Hatoyama who took office just a week ago, told reporters after the talks.

Obama said, ''I'm very confident that not only will the prime minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew a U.S.-Japan alliance that will be as strong in the 21st century as it was in the latter half of the 20th century.''

The two leaders spoke on the phone earlier this month after Hatoyama led the DPJ to a historic victory in the Aug. 30 election.

The DPJ has said it wants to build a foreign policy that puts Tokyo on a close but more equal footing with Washington, claiming that in the bilateral relationship to date Japan has been subservient to the United States and needs to be able to propose more proactively what role the two countries should play in international society.

In Wednesday's meeting, Hatoyama also told Obama that Japan will contribute to the stabilization of Afghanistan through farming assistance and vocational training for local residents, while Obama expressed his gratitude for the Japanese leader's offer.

But the Japanese officials said that offering humanitarian aid does not mean that Hatoyama has decided to pull the Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels out of the Indian Ocean at the deadline next January of the current terms for the mission and to provide other forms of support instead.

The leaders also agreed on the importance of working closely toward the success of a key U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, which is designed to shape a post-Kyoto Protocol international framework for greenhouse gas emissions.

On Tuesday, Hatoyama pledged at a U.N. Climate Change summit that his administration will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

Ahead of a U.N. Security Council session on nuclear disarmament to be hosted by Obama, the Japanese prime minister indicated hopes that Obama will take a leadership role in realizing a nuclear-free world, as pledged by the U.S. president in his speech in Prague in April.

On the U.S. forces relocation issue, Hatoyama has said he would seek to relocate the U.S. Marines' Futemma Air Station outside Japan's southernmost Okinawa Prefecture to reduce the burden among local residents, despite a bilateral agreement that the facility should be transferred within the prefecture.

The summit talks came after Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who is also in the United States, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday reaffirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Clinton was quoted as saying to Okada that Washington sees the 2006 agreement as the basis for the planned realignment, but also expressed Washington's intention to continue listening to Japan's position on that matter.

The DPJ has also indicated that it may end the dispatch of the MSDF vessels on the mission designed to support the U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, a move that Washington fears could affect the agreements with other allies.

The issues will likely be put on the table when Obama meets with Hatoyama again during his visit to Japan in November.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Sept. 23, 2009)