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Alliance-boosting Obama summit set for next Friday

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s long anticipated summit with U.S. President Barack Obama will take place Feb. 22, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced Friday.

The main purpose of Abe’s visit to Washington is to “clearly show” that Japan is strengthening ties with the U.S., Suga said.

High on the agenda will be North Korea and other Asia-Pacific security issues, he said.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will accompany Abe and will hold talks with new Secretary of State John Kerry.

Abe has emphasized that the main pillar of his foreign policy is strengthening the security alliance with the U.S., and his first summit with Obama is being viewed as a major test of his diplomatic skills.

The leaders are expected to discuss how best to keep North Korea in check following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test Tuesday.

Another issue drawing intense scrutiny is whether Abe will express willingness to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

Meanwhile, the government has started preparations to coordinate with the U.S. on imposing fresh financial sanctions on North Korea, political sources said.

Abe, who proposed to Obama in a phone conversation Thursday that the two allies work closely to come up with their own sanctions on Pyongyang, hopes to discuss steps to strictly control the flow of money to North Korea, the sources said.

Japanese officials expect that the U.S. will ban transactions with financial institutions that have close ties with North Korean nationals or organizations, and, at their summit, Abe is expected to pitch the idea that Tokyo buttress Washington’s sanctions by shutting out these institutions from its financial market, according to the sources.

In the telephone talks, Abe praised Washington’s “good” policy step of halting transactions between U.S. banks and Banco Delta Asia in Macau due to money-laundering concerns implicating North Korea from 2005 to 2007, a government official said.

The de facto freezing of North Korea’s assets at the bank is said to have dealt a heavy blow to Pyongyang.

Abe, who previously served as prime minister for a year through September 2007, explicitly cited the case because he hopes the United States will impose similar sanctions on the North this time, the sources said.

Tokyo, for its part, is considering toughening a measure that controls money transfers to North Korea from Japan, they added.

One plan would lower the maximum amount of money that can be remitted from Japan to North Korea without informing the central government. At present, all money transfers to Pyongyang that exceed ¥3 million must be declared.

Information from Kyodo added