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Aso, Biden affirm stance on North

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden renewed Washington’s vow to staunchly defend Japan after weeks of threats and rhetoric from North Korea as he met with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at the White House.

“The vice president and deputy prime minister agreed that North Korea must end its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and comply with its international obligations,” a statement issued after their meeting Friday said.

During the talks, Aso told Biden that while it is difficult to decipher Pyongyang’s intentions, Japan cannot accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Noting that the U.S. has maintained a long-term presence in East Asia, Biden replied that he wants to work closely with Japan over the North’s nuclear and missile threats, an official said.

Aso also raised the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, and stressed the need for Tokyo to deal with Pyongyang sternly.

The two also shared the view that Japanese-U.S. relations have flourished since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government took office at the end of last year.

Biden told Aso that Japan is the most important ally of the United States in the region, and that President Barack Obama wants to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, the official said.

On the economic front, Aso and Biden also agreed to cooperate on Japan’s planned participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks. Aso, who also serves as finance minister, expressed expectations for Biden’s support for Japan’s entry into the ongoing negotiations on the free-trade initiative at an early date, and the vice president said he will continue to cooperate with Japan, a separate official said.

Aso also briefed Biden about Tokyo’s plan to promote economic growth and combat deflation, the official added.