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U.S., Japan 'equal partners,' Obama says

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Obama arrives in Japan
  • President, prime minister discuss Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, the economy.
  • Obama will also visit Singapore, China and South Korea
  • Trip will mark first participation by a U.S. president in a summit of the ASEAN economic alliance
  • Obama will hold a bilateral meeting with Russian and Indonesian presidents

(CNN) -- President Obama stopped in Japan on the first leg of his trip to Asia Friday, stressing that United States and Japan "have been and will continue to be equal partners."

Obama and newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama huddled for talks on a range of issues Friday, including bilateral relations, Afghanistan, nuclear nonproliferation, the economy and the U.S. military base in Okinawa.

The two leaders met reporters for a news briefing.

Obama said he began his visit in Japan because the U.S.-Japanese relationship is "a foundation for security and prosperity," and he emphasized that the United States plays an integral role in the region.

"Throughout my trip and throughout my presidency, I intend to make clear that the United States is a Pacific nation, and we will be deepening our engagement in this part of the world. As I said to Prime Minister Hatoyama, the United States will strengthen our alliances, build new partnerships, and we will be part of multilateral efforts and regional institutions that advance regional security and prosperity," Obama said.

Video: Issues for Obama on Japan visit
Fact Box

*Meeting Japan's new government, which pledged more independence from Washington

*Tokyo is reviewing moving a U.S. Marine Corps base, ruffling feathers in Washington.

*Aid to Afghanistan: Japan's government is extending US$5 billion in aid.

*Economic recovery: The world's second largest economy has major companies like Toyota operating in the U.S.

*Rising China: Japan is strengthening ties with this emerging economic superpower.

*North Korea: Resuming six-party talks.

Obama's trip comes as Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan swept to power earlier this year, ending nearly 50 years of continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, which had aligned itself closely to U.S. policy. The new government has flexed its muscles, saying it is reviewing a bilateral deal to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps base within Okinawa. The plan, which includes a 2006 agreement to construct a new U.S. military airfield with two runways, has been met with fierce local opposition.

Hatoyama thanked Obama for coming to Japan in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre.

"Despite the tragedy of the mass shooting in your country, that you have taken time out of your busy schedule to come and join us here today we're very thankful for you, to you," he said.

Obama said the United States and Japan have started a "high-level working group that will focus on implementation of the agreement that our two governments reached with respect to the restructuring of U.S. forces in Okinawa, and we hope to complete this work expeditiously."

"Our goal remains the same, and that's to provide for the defense of Japan with minimal intrusion on the lives of the people who share this space."

The issue of nuclear proliferation resonates in Japan, where the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II.

"We are building a new international consensus to secure loose nuclear materials and strengthen the nonproliferation regime, and to that end we discussed both North Korea and this situation in Iran, recognizing that it's absolutely vital that both countries meet their international obligations," Obama said.

"If they do, then they can open the door to a better future. If not, we will remain united in implementing U.N. resolutions that are in place, and continuing to work in an international context to move toward an agenda of nonproliferation."

The president recognized Japan's "unique perspective on the issue of nuclear weapons, as a consequence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "

"I certainly would be honored, it would be meaningful for me to visit those two cities in the future. I don't have immediate travel plans, but it's something that would be meaningful to me," Obama said.

Noting that Japan and the United States are the world's two leading economies, Obama said he and Hatoyama have spent a lot of time tackling the economic crisis.

"And we're going to continue to work to strengthen our efforts so that we can expand job growth in the future. And we will be discussing with our APECpartners how to rebalance our deep economic cooperation with this region to strengthen our recovery," he said, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group. Obama will attend the organization's meeting in Singapore.

Japan's role in helping to rebuild Afghanistan was discussed. Tokyo says it will extend up to $5 billion in civilian aid to Afghanistan over five years in an effort to combat terrorism. The financial aid comes as Hatoyama's government prepares to end its naval refueling mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan next January.

"The prime minister and I discussed our cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Obama, who thanked Japan for its aid to Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan.

"This underscores Japan's prominent role within a broad international coalition that is advancing the cause of stability and opportunity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, I shared with the prime minister our efforts in refining our approach to make it more successful in the coming year."