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Robust Japan-U.S. alliance remains unchanged, Abe tells Hagel

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the start of talks Saturday with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that he will send a strong message that the robust bilateral alliance remains unchanged.

Abe and Hagel held talks in Tokyo amid growing security challenges in East Asia, including China’s military assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

During the meeting, Abe briefed Hagel about his plan to alter the government’s interpretation of the pacifist Constitution to enable the nation to exercise the right to engage in collective self-defense.

With regard to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Abe called for U.S. “understanding” of the prefecture’s request to close the base within five years, government officials said.

Hagel responded noncommittally, they added.

As for Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima’s approval of landfill work to build a replacement facility for the Futenma base at an offshore area of Nago, also on Okinawa Island, Hagel expressed gratitude for Abe’s leadership on the matter, the officials said.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy also joined the meeting.

Hagel, who is on a three-day visit to Tokyo through Monday, is scheduled to hold talks with Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida separately on Sunday.

Hagel last visited Japan in October, when the two countries held a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers.