WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda vowed Sunday to make Japan-U.S. relations “bloom,” the Foreign Ministry said, expressing an eagerness to boost bilateral ties on the 100th anniversary of Tokyo’s gift of cherry trees to Washington.
Soon after arriving in the U.S. capital, Noda held a reception, inviting around 100 people, including U.S. government officials, to thank them for their support in dealing with the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Before the gathering, Noda also met with members of a U.S. rescue team that entered the afflicted area, as well as with the family of Taylor Anderson, an English teacher who was killed in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the coastal cities hit hardest by the natural disasters.
When Japan was in desperate trouble, “There were friends who embraced and encouraged us, extending a helping hand,” Noda, who is scheduled to hold formal talks Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama, was quoted as saying by the ministry.
A member of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team told Noda that it was a great honor to help in areas of Japan ravaged by the quake and tsunami, the ministry said.
A member of the Anderson family expressed a willingness to continue to support Japan’s reconstruction efforts, the ministry added. Taylor’s parents, Andy and Jeanne, established the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund to help children in Japan.
Noda is the first prime minister to formally meet with Obama in the U.S. capital since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in September 2009. The two leaders are expected to issue a joint statement after their summit Monday pledging to deepen the bilateral alliance.
Amid concern that North Korea may go ahead with a third nuclear test or take other provocative actions, Noda and Obama could vow to work together to try to prevent Pyongyang from acting out against the interests of regional security.
On the defense front, they are likely to agree on a basic strategy for realigning U.S. military forces in Japan based on a new report released Friday by the foreign and defense ministers of the two nations.
The last time a prime minister held a formal meeting in Washington with Obama was in February 2009, when Taro Aso was the first foreign leader invited to the White House after Obama’s inauguration.
Yukio Hatoyama, the first DPJ prime minister, held informal talks with Obama for only 10 minutes in Washington on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in April 2010.
Naoto Kan, Hatoyama’s successor, met Obama on the sidelines of events outside Washington but not at the White House.