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February 17, 2013

Washington Week: Focus Turns to US-Pacific Ties

by Michael Bowman

U.S.-Pacific ties take center stage in Washington this week, as Japan’s prime minister visits the White House on Friday.
 

North Korea’s latest nuclear test will be a prime topic of discussion between President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


"The actions taken by North Korea cannot be permitted or condoned by the international community, and I believe it is essential that Japan and the United States work together to adopt a new U.N. Security Council resolution that includes additional sanction measures," Abe said.


Last week, the Security Council condemned the nuclear test and began work on what was termed "appropriate measures" in response. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conferred with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said North Korea must face consequences.


"This week's test was an enormously provocative act that warrants a strong, a swift, and a credible response from the global community," Kerry said.


While sharing concern over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the United States and Japan are also struggling to surmount persistent economic weakness. Both nations recorded negative economic growth at the end of last year, and are hoping for a turnaround in the year ahead.


A looming threat for the U.S. economy: across-the-board federal spending cuts slated to go into effect March 1. Prospects for accord on an alternative way to reduce the deficit are dimming. Late last week, lawmakers left Washington for a week-long recess still deadlocked on a way forward.


Democrats want a mix of spending cuts and additional revenues to replace the so-called "sequester." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:


"Democrats stand with the president’s call for a balanced approach to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, grow the economy, and responsibly reduce the deficit," Pelosi said.


Republicans reject any solution that includes new tax revenue. House Speaker John Boehner:


"The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years. Period," Boehner said.


With Congress inactive, Senate confirmation of two Obama Cabinet nominees remain in limbo: former senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan for CIA director.