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Obama Praises 'Strong' Ties with Japan at Start of Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama praised the strong ties and democratic values Washington shares with Tokyo as he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the first full day of his state visit to Japan Thursday.

At the start of their summit, Mr. Obama said it is important the United States and Japan work together to deal with "regional hot spots around the globe" and to ensure "a strong set of rules that govern the international order."

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Obama held a private meeting with Emperor Akihito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. A military honor guard, and children holding U.S. and Japanese flags, greeted the president.

Mr. Obama arrived late Wednesday in Tokyo, where he took part in an informal dinner with Mr. Abe at the famed sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. The restaurant is run by 88-year-old Jiro Ono, whose meticulous technique was detailed in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Mr. Abe told reporters the president praised the meal as "the best sushi he had had in his life.''

Security concerns about China's territorial claims and North Korea's nuclear program will be a major focus of Mr. Obama's trip, which also includes stops in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Japan is embroiled in a growing dispute with Beijing over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Ahead of his visit, Mr. Obama told Japan's Yomiuri newspaper the United States opposes "any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands." He also stressed the islands fall under a treaty that requires the U.S. to defend Japan if attacked.

Mr. Obama also will try to make progress with Japan on the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal. U.S. officials said Thursday that talks were continuing and progress had been made, but there were no reports on a breakthrough.

From Tokyo, President Obama will head to Seoul, where he will talk with South Korean President Park Geun-hye about how to deal with North Korea, which some believe is preparing to conduct another nuclear test.

In Malaysia, Mr. Obama will hold talks and attend a state dinner with Prime Minister Najib Razak. He will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson traveled there in 1966.

Mr. Obama's last stop will be the Philippines, which is also involved in a territorial standoff with China and has deepened its military cooperation with Washington as a result.

This is Mr. Obama's fifth visit to Asia since taking office in 2009. He has promised to make the Pacific region a greater economic, diplomatic, and military priority for the United States.

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