Japan PM to make diplomatic debut in U.S.

TOKYO (AP) - Japan's new prime minister will make his diplomatic debut next week with a visit to the United Nations and an economic summit meeting in Pittsburgh, officials said Thursday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is also hoping to meet with President Barack Obama. The Japanese leader, who took office Wednesday, has said he wants to review the status of America's military presence in Japan.

Hatoyama was to leave for New York on Monday to address the General Assembly of the United Nations and then travel on to Pittsburgh for the Group of 20 economic meeting.

Officials were trying to arrange a meeting with Obama while Hatoyama is in the U.S., but said they had not finalized if or when that would happen.

Hatoyama, a longtime opposition leader, has said that he wants to shift Japan's diplomatic stance from one that is centered on following Washington's lead to a more independent stance giving more weight to relations with Japan's Asian neighbors, including China.

Although saying he intends to keep Washington as the "cornerstone" of Japan's foreign policy, Hatoyama also has stressed he wants to review the status of the nearly 50,000 U.S. troops who are deployed throughout Japan under a post-World War II mutual security pact, a potentially sensitive issue.

The United States has already agreed to move 8,000 U.S. Marines off the crowded southern Japan island of Okinawa and relocate them by 2014 to Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. The plan involves shutting down a Marine air station in the city of Futenma and replace it with another somewhere else on Okinawa.

Many Okinawans, however, want the base closed and moved off their island, a position some members of Hatoyama's party had supported before they became the ruling party in parliamentary elections last month.

The Pentagon has said that the deal, made with the previous conservative government of Japan, is nonnegotiable.

Hatoyama has also said that he wants to end a Japanese naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have expressed disappointment at that decision.

Shortly after taking office, Hatoyama said that he does not intend to push security matters right away, and instead wants to have frank talks with Obama and build up a relationship of trust.

A Foreign Ministry official, who requested anonymity because the schedule has not been announced yet, said that if the Obama meeting was to take place, it would "likely" be while Hatoyama is in New York.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, speaking early Thursday, said Japan's diplomatic priorities are the U.S.-Japan security alliance, efforts to bring peace to the Pakistan-Afghanistan area, and climate change.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton played down differences Wednesday with Japan's new government, saying she is "very relaxed and optimistic" that ties will remain strong with a Democratic Party of Japan that is less pro-American than the outgoing Liberal Democrats.

Clinton told reporters that the strength of the alliance forged after Japan's defeat in World War II will withstand any change in government.

Still, she acknowledged that "there is a lot of work to be done on both of our sides to develop some understanding and build relationships. This is a new government for Japan; it's a change that is dramatic given the 50 years" of Liberal Democratic Party leadership.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment