Japan has faced difficulty coordinating with the United States to invite President Barack Obama as a state guest in late April, as South Korea has also made a call on Washington for him to visit, sources close to the matter said Monday.
Tokyo has already proposed Obama visit from April 20 to 23 for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will visit the United States from Friday to discuss the matter with Secretary of State John Kerry, said the sources.
But the United States has been forced to pay attention to calls from both Japan and South Korea at a time when the two U.S. allies have increasingly confronted each other over a territorial dispute and perceptions of wartime history.
A state visit to Japan by Obama would be the first in 18 years by a U.S. president since one by Bill Clinton.
Japanese officials hope Obama’s state visit could enhance the Japan-U.S. alliance while easing U.S. discontent over Abe’s recent visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine that defied U.S. requests not to do so and added to tensions between Japan and its neighbors in Asia.
The U.S. government is also mulling a visit by Obama to South Korea and some Southeast Asian countries around the same time.
South Korea is reportedly calling for a relatively long stay by Obama in the country, causing uncertainty over whether Japan’s preparation will smoothly proceed.
Japan would invite Obama to meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Tokyo and attend a banquet at the Imperial Palace as a state guest, leading the president to stay for multiple days in Japan and shorten his stay in other destinations.
The U.S. government is expected to fix the schedule for his Japan visit within the month, the sources said.
At the planned summit, Abe is expected to brief Obama on his purpose of the Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine.
The Shinto shrine honors convicted Japanese wartime leaders along with the war dead. Japanese leaders visiting it have been considered by many Asian countries as insensitive to their suffering from Japan’s wartime aggression in the area.
Abe’s Yasukuni visit triggered criticism particularly from China as well as South Korea, although he said he wanted to pay tribute to the war dead and had no intent to hurt the feelings of Chinese and Koreans.
The U.S. government then expressed its disappointment at the visit, a rare expression of discontent with Japan’s administration, and expressed fears Abe’s move could destabilize the situation in Northeast Asia.
Abe pressed through the Yasukuni visit despite requests by senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, not to do so.
Biden, in phone talks with Abe in early December, conveyed his request. But Abe rejected it, saying he would decide by himself, Kyodo News has learned.
Other topics for the leaders’ talks would include joint operations between the U.S. military and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to maintain peace and stability in Asia and ongoing negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, in which Japan and the United States lead 10 other Pacific Rim nations.
“If President Obama visits Japan as a state guest, it will help show off the stable Japan-U.S. alliance to the world,” a Japanese government source said.