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Obama, Japanese PM Focus on North Korea, Maritime Issues

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the end of their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 22, 2013.
President Barack Obama and Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have pledged a strong response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. The two leaders met Friday at the White House, where they also discussed economic issues.

The president and Prime Minister Abe agreed to pursue additional economic sanctions against North Korea following that country’s nuclear test and missile launches.

During a speech following the meeting, Abe said such actions by North Korea cannot be accepted.

“Their nuclear ambition should not be tolerated. Unless they give up developing a nuclear arsenal, missile technologies and release all the Japanese citizens they abducted, my government will give them no reward," he said.

Abe said the U.S.-Japan alliance in the Pacific is a stabilizing factor and could be helpful in settling Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

The Japanese prime minister had strong words for the Chinese government.

"We simply cannot tolerate any challenge now, and in the future. No nation should make any miscalculation about the firmness of our resolve. No one should ever doubt the robustness of the Japan-U.S. alliance. At the same time, I have absolutely no intention to climb up the escalation ladder."

Abe began his second term as prime minister in December. He campaigned, in part, on a pledge of closer relations with the United States amid perceived threats from China's territorial claims.

Obama said he and the prime minister spent much of their meeting discussing ways to boost economic growth, which he called their number-one priority.

“…and steps that we can take in our respective countries to encourage the kind of trade, expanded commerce and robust growth that will lead to greater opportunity for both the United States and Japan,” said Obama.

The U.S. and Japanese leaders also discussed the question of Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new U.S.-led free trade group.

Speaking through a translator, Abe said he will discuss the proposal with his political coalition when he returns to Tokyo.

“And based on that, whether to decide to take part in the negotiation, it should be left to the government and we would like the parties concerned to leave this to us,” he said.

Abe is Japan’s fifth prime minister since Obama took office in 2009.

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