WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday with full pomp and ceremony on a bright, dewy morning at the White House, calling the state visit a “celebration of the ties of friendship” and praising the alliance the U.S. and Japan have built over time.
Military honors and a gun salute greeted the Japanese leader in an arrival ceremony. Trade and security issues top the agenda for Abe’s visit, which was to be capped by a state dinner Tuesday with about 300 guests.
“Prime Minister Abe is leading Japan to a new role in the world stage,” Obama said, setting the tone for their meeting.
Abe, speaking in Japanese, said he and Obama have been working to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance since they first met two years ago.
“Now our bilateral relationship is more robust than ever,” he said.The two leaders then huddled in the Oval Office for their meeting. They planned a joint news conference later.
The visit aims to highlight the reconciliation between two nations once at war and to point the way toward expanded economic ties. The two countries are working toward a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would further open vast Asian and Pacific rim markets to U.S. exports.
Obama faces stiff resistance to the trade deal among members of his own Democratic party.
While Obama and Abe won’t be ready to announce a trade breakthrough, officials on both sides say they will likely declare they have made considerable progress in closing remaining gaps. The toughest sticking points are U.S. tariffs on Japanese pickup trucks and barriers in Japan on certain U.S. agricultural products.
Abe’s visit comes on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and has already prompted demands that he use his trip to address the use of sex slaves by the Imperial Army during the war. The issue has been a major irritant with South Korea and China, which has demanded an apology from Abe.
Obama, who will play host to South Korean President Park Geun-hye later this year, has been thrust into the role of diplomatic broker between the two nations.
Last year in The Hague, Netherlands, Obama scored a small but significant coup by bringing together Park and Abe together for their first face-to-face meeting since they both took office more than a two years ago. Officials then said the discussions were focused on the security threat posed by North Korea, not on the source of Japan-South Korea friction.
On Monday, Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers meeting in New York approved revisions to the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines. The new rules boost Japan’s military capability. The changes, which strengthen Japan’s role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern U.S.-Japan defense cooperation.
Abe is sure to get a flavor of the opposition Obama confronts from Democrats and from the political left. He will address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, and a coalition of trade deal critics plans to place a giant Trojan Horse, symbolizing the fast-track authority Obama seeks, well within view of his motorcade.
Likewise, Republican supporters of the trade deal were applying pressure on Abe. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, the head of the House committee that deals with trade, Paul Ryan, urged Abe to stand up to the Japanese farms and auto lobbies in favor of more open trade.
Nothing seemed to underscore the reconciliation between the countries more than the agreement to boost the U.S.-Japan defense relationship, which would allow Japan to play a bigger role in global military operations in its region.
Story by the Associated Press
Leaders stand side by side hoping to strengthen alliance
A historic visit for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States is underway. Everything from security and trade deals are on the table. But how will closer US-Japan ties impact China. Nathan King filed this report from Washington, D.C.