News / Asia

North Korea, Maritime Disputes, Key Topics in Obama-Abe Talks

Japan's PM Shinzo Abe (photo January 2013)
Japan's PM Shinzo Abe (photo January 2013)
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— President Barack Obama and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold talks at the White House Friday.  They will focus on the U.S. - Japan alliance and regional security challenges, including North Korea and maritime tensions between Japan and China.

Friday's talks will be divided into two parts, one on regional security and global issues, and a working lunch dealing with economic issues.

The first round will cover maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, including Japan's dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands.

International issues such as Iran, Afghanistan, events in North Africa and counter-terrorism are also on the agenda.

The two leaders discussed North Korea during a telephone conversation a week ago, pledging "significant actions" at the United Nations, and other steps.

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes says Obama and Prime Minister Abe will discuss challenges posed by Pyongyang to the U.S. and its allies.

"As the president said in the State of the Union [address] our response to the North Korean nuclear test and its broader pattern of provocative acts must start with very firm U.S commitments to the security of our allies, Japan and South Korea.  It will have to include close coordination with Japan and South Korea," said Rhodes.

Rhodes said the response includes support and investment in missile defense, and international action at the United Nations Security Council, though he offered no further details.

Danny Russel, Senior Director for Asia on the National Security Council, says Obama wants an update on diplomatic efforts to prevent tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkakus from escalating.

"The president, I am sure, will value hearing the prime minister's assessment and will welcome any and all constructive steps to engage diplomatically and to manage the maritime situation in a way that prevents the risk of miscalculation," said Russel.

Nicholas Szechenyi is Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"I think the most important point is that the United States really doesn't want to accept any efforts that would challenge Japan's control [of the islands] through coercion," said Szechenyi. "And I think that is the theme that has emerged in recent months."

Szechenyi expects Prime Minister Abe to reassure Obama of efforts to work with Beijing for a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

The Obama-Abe talks will include discussion of the still unresolved question of Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new U.S.-led free trade group.

The U.S. and Japan have been trying to resolve some outstanding bilateral trade sector issues that have blocked Japanese participation.

Mike Froman, Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs addressed U.S. auto worker's concerns that Japan has not made enough progress opening its automobile sector.

"We take those concerns very seriously and we are in consultations with Japan over those issues," said Froman.

White House officials say President Obama has always placed a high priority on the U.S. relationship and alliance with Japan.

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