Hatoyama, Obama vow to deepen ties, work on nuclear-free world

by Daisuke Yamamoto

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed Friday to deepen the bilateral alliance prior to the 50th anniversary of the revision of the countries' security treaty next year, but left largely untouched the thorny issue of how to relocate a military base in Okinawa.

The two leaders also issued a joint statement on nuclear disarmament after their summit meeting in Tokyo, in which they confirmed the countries' determination to realize a nuclear-free world and to urge nuclear states to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies.

The 90-minute talks -- held during Obama's first visit to Japan since assuming office in January, on the first leg of his four-country Asian tour -- came as a row over a U.S. military base in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture has threatened to strain decades-old security ties.

Hatoyama and Obama agreed that the two countries will seek to expeditiously reach a conclusion on the issue through a new ministerial-level framework. But Obama expressed his desire to see Tokyo abide by a 2006 deal stipulating that the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station be transferred by 2014 to a new facility to be built in another city in Okinawa, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan has promoted the idea of moving the replacement facility for Futemma out of Okinawa, or out of Japan altogether, in an effort to reduce the burden on base-hosting communities.

Hatoyama and Obama also agreed to make efforts for the success of a key climate change conference in Copenhagen next month where the world will try to clinch a deal on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

They also agreed on plans to cut their countries' greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, while agreeing in a joint message to support efforts by ''the poor and most vulnerable'' nations to combat climate change.

Hatoyama said at a joint news conference that during the summit he had proposed building a ''constructive or future-oriented new Japan-U.S. alliance'' by adapting to the changing times and the international situation.

The prime minister said he and Obama agreed to start one-year consultations ''from today'' to review the alliance, which both see as the foundation for stability in the Asia-Pacific region, as next year marks the 50th anniversary of the security pact's revision.

The two leaders also agreed that their countries should seek a ''multilayered'' alliance in which they work closely not just on military security but also on other issues, such as anti-disaster efforts, medicine and health, education and the environment.

In an apparent effort to allay concern that he is trying to forge closer ties with Asia by steering a diplomatic course more independent of Washington, Hatoyama told Obama that his ''East Asian community'' concept is built on Japan-U.S. relations and expressed hope for the United States' increased presence in the region.

During the summit, Hatoyama also urged Obama to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki at some point while the president is in office, saying that the Japanese people are looking forward to him making such a visit. ''I would like you to go there if you have a chance,'' he was quoted as telling Obama.

Asked about such a possibility, Obama told the news conference, ''I certainly would be honored, and it would be meaningful for me to visit'' the world's only atomic-bombed cities ''in the future.''

He said, however, that he has no immediate plans to do so.

As Obama wrestles with a new military strategy for Afghanistan, especially whether to send more troops, Hatoyama told him of Japan's decision to extend $5 billion, or about 450 billion yen, in civilian aid to the country over five years from this year.

The aid is viewed as an alternative to Tokyo's Indian Ocean refueling mission in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, which Japan plans to end in January.

Noting that the number of refueling activities has been much lower than initially, Hatoyama said Japan finds it more fitting to provide nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan to fight terrorism and help the country's reconstruction efforts.

Lifting the Afghan people out of poverty and training former Taliban insurgents for jobs would ensure them more fulfilling lives, he said, adding that Obama ''basically expressed gratitude'' for Tokyo's new aid package.

On North Korea, Hatoyama told Obama that Tokyo supports Washington's plan to send special U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth to North Korea, while confirming with him the two countries' cooperation in seeking a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

The two countries agreed to seek to resume soon the six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs -- the framework from which Pyongyang withdrew in April in protest at the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its rocket launch the same month.

Shortly after the talks, Hatoyama left for Singapore to attend an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum over the weekend. Obama will do likewise on Saturday afternoon after delivering a speech on U.S. policy toward Asia and nuclear disarmament.

Obama's visit was postponed by one day because of the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas. During his first Asian tour, the president will also visit China and South Korea.

Hatoyama and Obama held a bilateral summit in New York in September on the fringes of U.N. General Assembly meetings.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Nov. 14, 2009)