WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on April 30 decried aggressive acts from North Korea, including its recent failed rocket launch, and vowed to maintain a unified front against such provocations.
Obama said Pyongyang is operating from a position of weakness, not strength, and Noda said the launch undermined diplomacy to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Obama said the United States and Japan, along with other countries in the region, are unified in insisting that North Korea abide by its international responsibilities.
“The old pattern of provocation that then gets attention and somehow insists on the world purchasing good behavior from them, that pattern is broken,” Obama said in a joint news conference with Noda at the White House.
Such actions, Obama said, “only serve to deepen Pyongyang's isolation.”
North Korea fired a three-stage rocket earlier this month over the Yellow Sea, defying international warnings against what the United States and other nations said would violate bans against nuclear and missile activity. In response to the launch, the United States suspended an agreement to provide food aid to North Korea.
Noda, standing next to Obama in the White House East Room, said that given North Korea's past practice, there appeared to be a good chance that it would undertake yet another nuclear test. He said China remains an important player in trying to restrain North Korea's nuclear program.
Obama and Noda pledged to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security alliance, the latest effort to project unity between Washington and its Asian partners as a counterweight to China's growing assertiveness in the region.
The two leaders put their stamp of approval on a long-stalled agreement to sharply reduce the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa, which could help ease the way for Obama's strategy of dispersing U.S. forces around the western Pacific.
Starting with a trip late last year, Obama has touted a "pivot" toward the economically dynamic Asia-Pacific region widely seen as a U.S. effort to reassure nervous allies there of the U.S. commitment as China flexes its economic and military muscle.
"We have agreed to a new joint vision to guide our alliance and help shape the Asia-Pacific for decades to come," Obama said after Oval Office talks with Noda.
Though a joint statement contained few specifics, Obama cast it as a part of a broader security regional effort he unveiled on his Asia-Pacific trip in November. Closer military ties are also being forged with the Philippines, Australia and Singapore.
Obama administration officials have left little doubt that they want to show Americans they are working to face down a rising competitive threat from China, which has become a key issue at home as the president seeks re-election in November.
But Obama also sought on April 30 to avoid further roiling the diplomatic waters. "All of our actions are not designed to in any way contain China," Obama said of his talks with Noda, who leads the world's third largest economy.
"But they are designed to ensure that they (China) are part of a broader international community in which rules, norms are respected, in which all countries can prosper and succeed," Obama said.
The two leaders met just days after the two countries announced a revised agreement on streamlining the U.S. military presence on Okinawa that will shift 9,000 Marines from the southern Japanese island to Guam and other Asia-Pacific sites.
The new plan helps the allies work around the central but still-unresolved dispute over moving the Futenma air base from a crowded part of Okinawa to a new site that has vexed relations for years.
Under the agreement, 5,000 Marines will go to Guam and the rest to other sites such as Hawaii and Australia.
The agreement includes a $3.1 billion cash commitment from Japan for the move to Guam as well as for developing joint training ranges on Guam and on Tinian and Pagan in the U.S.-controlled Northern Mariana Islands.
Snags over Okinawa had raised questions about the viability of the Obama administration's strategy of shifting U.S. forces from other regions to the Asia-Pacific to deal with nuclear saber-rattling by North Korea, the rapid military buildup of China and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Obama welcomed the deal as serving the "broad-based interests of our alliance as a whole, and Noda said it would help the two countries "step up bilateral security and defense cooperation in a creative manner."
Washington wants Japan to loosen restrictions, enshrined in its largely pacifist post-World War II constitution, on Japanese troop deployment outside its borders.
The Okinawa issue had been a major political headache at home for Noda, Japan's sixth prime minister in six years. He is struggling to boost an economy that been anemic for a generation and was hit hard by last year's earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster.
Noda was in Washington also looking to boost his leadership credentials as his popularity flags at home.
Noda, who came to power in September and is Japan's sixth prime minister in six years, faces huge challenges in reviving a long-slumbering economy and helping his nation recover from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
His Oval Office meeting and working lunch with Obama, as well as the news conference followed by a gala dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, could offer Noda some brief relief from domestic woes. The two sides are determined to show that U.S.-Japan ties are as close as ever, particularly after the assistance from the United States lent following the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a meltdown at a nuclear plant.
Obama praised Noda and the Japanese people for their recovery after the disasters.
The U.S. alliance with Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is at the core of Obama's expanded engagement in Asia--a diplomatic thrust motivated in part by a desire to counter the growing economic and military clout of strategic rival China.
Their meeting takes place during a delicate time in U.S.-China relations, as the two world powers reportedly negotiate an asylum deal for a blind Chinese legal activist who escaped from house arrest. Activists say he is under the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing, but Obama would not comment on the diplomatically sensitive case during the news conference.
He did add, however, that the issue of human rights is a recurrent one in U.S. meetings with China.
“It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system,” he said.
Noda is the first Japanese leader to be hosted at the White House since his Democratic Party of Japan, which had an initially awkward relationship with Washington, came to power in the fall of 2009. The party had at first favored a foreign policy more independent of the United States.
Noda is seen in Washington as capable and practical. The Obama administration hopes he can weather his political problems and stick around longer than his immediate predecessors. His support in polls has dwindled to below 30 percent as he pushes an unpopular rise in a consumption tax to tackle Japan's vast national debt and looming social security crisis to cope with the nation's aging population.
No breakthroughs on trade were anticipated at the summit on April 30. Obama said both sides would continue discussions about Japan's interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact under negotiation by nine nations and a key plank in U.S. trade strategy to crank up its exports to support America's fragile recovery after the global slowdown.
While Noda is believed to be personally supportive of declaring Japan's intent to join the talks, he faces opposition at home, even within his own party. The pact could demand an assault on the heavy subsidies enjoyed by Japan's farmers.
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For the remarks of Obama and Noda at the joint news conference, visit: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/04/30/remarks-president-obama-and-prime-minister-noda-japan-joint-press-confer).
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