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U.S. links Abe-Obama meet to progress on major issues

Futenma move, TPP entry, beef imports top list

Kyodo

The United States has pressed Japan to achieve results concerning key bilateral issues before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington, effectively setting hurdles for Tokyo, which wants enhanced ties with its main ally, diplomatic sources said.

The request, made earlier this month at a meeting of senior officials of the two countries, pertains to issues ranging from the contentious plan to relocate a U.S. military base in Okinawa to Japan’s possible participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks to Tokyo’s restrictions on imported U.S. beef.

Abe, who took office in December following the Liberal Democratic Party’s general election victory, originally hoped to meet President Barack Obama this month, apparently with the aim of showcasing stable bilateral relations at a time of soured ties with its neighbors, particularly China, over territorial disputes.

But he was forced to give up the idea, with the government citing Obama’s tight schedule, as he will be inaugurated for a second term Sunday. But the sources said the development partly reflects the difficulties Tokyo faces in meeting the U.S. request immediately.

Abe, who instead chose Southeast Asia for his first foreign trip, is now expected to visit Washington in February at the earliest.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida left for the U.S. on Friday for talks with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, adding to the view that Japan is seeking to assure Washington that Abe will work to make progress on issues of bilateral concern.

The U.S. has called for results in Japan’s efforts based on a bilateral agreement to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa for safety reasons, a plan fiercely opposed by local residents.

Abe’s LDP-led government is considering asking permission next month from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to begin land-fill work at the planned relocation site in Henoko, in the city of Nago.

According to the sources, Washington has also strongly hoped that Abe will make clear at his meeting with Obama of Japan’s intention to join the U.S.-led TPP talks. Abe has said Japan will not participate in the talks if Tokyo will be required to eliminate tariffs without exception, a position that reflects strong opposition by domestic farmers and LDP lawmakers dependent on rural voters.

Senior LDP members have said the ruling party has to make a decision ahead of this summer’s House of Councilors election.

Japan has also fallen short in determining whether to moderate its restrictions on U.S. beef imports due to fears about mad cow disease.

On the fourth and final issue, amid strong calls from the U.S. and other developed countries, Tokyo has signaled it will implement legal changes to join an international treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes.

Japan will accelerate procedures to take part in the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets rules for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of international marriages, to the country of their habitual residence.

The government aims to reintroduce legislation to endorse the convention in the Diet.