The United States appeared reluctant Wednesday to arrange a summit between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Copenhagen, dealing a political blow to the Hatoyama Cabinet as Tokyo seeks to ease diplomatic tensions with Washington.
Because the U.S. is Japan’s only military ally and a key diplomatic partner, a meeting with the president carries great symbolic value for a prime minister.
But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday in Washington that because the two national leaders met just last month in Tokyo to discuss the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa, it was probably unnecessary to meet again on the sidelines of the global climate conference in Copenhagen.
“I think this is appropriately being handled right now with our ambassador there and others in terms of making progress,” Gibbs said. “I think this was discussed just a couple of weeks ago and I think the working group working, we would believe, is the best way to continue that progress.”
The minister-level working group on reviewing the 2006 agreement to relocate the Futenma base, however, has been suspended due to U.S reluctance to change the 2006 accord and “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment across Japan.
On Thursday, Hatoyama suggested he would give up the idea of meeting one on one with Obama in Copenhagen after Washington shunned his overtures.
He also indicated that conveying his administration’s policy on the issue to Washington may not be possible by Dec. 18 as planned, saying Tokyo now intends to determine its policy by the end of the month.
“There will be very big discussions about climate change (in Copenhagen), and I share the view that much of the time would be spent on it,” he said in Indonesia, where he was visiting. “So it’s not such an easy thing to (meet bilaterally with Obama).”
On the likelihood of missing the self-imposed Dec. 18 deadline on relaying Japan’s policy to Washington, Hatoyama said, “We’ve been meaning to decide what policy we should embrace by the end of the year.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also stressed Hatoyama’s intention, telling reporters Thursday, “I imagine he has strong feelings about (deciding on) the policy of approaching the issue by the end of the year.”