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Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on Wednesday called for reinforced security ties and an overall partnership with the United States, underlining Japan-U.S. relations as the main pillar of Japanese diplomatic policy.

Speaking to reporters on the eve of his landmark visit to the U.S., Obuchi also said that the economy is about to bottom out and that the government does not currently find it necessary to compile a supplementary budget to stimulate it.

During his six-day trip to the U.S., Obuchi will visit Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington. He is expected to meet President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore as well as U.S. business leaders and university students.

“At the moment, there is no major concern about the Japan-U.S. relationship,” Obuchi said. “I hope to discuss medium and long-term relationships between Japan and the U.S. (with President Clinton).”

The Liberal Democratic Party, which Obuchi heads, managed to push updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guideline bills through the Lower House on Tuesday with the support of its coalition partner Liberal Party and New Komeito — just in time for the prime minister’s U.S. departure.

The Upper House debate on the controversial bills began Wednesday and they are expected to be approved by the Diet as early as the end of May.

The prime minister said that the guideline-related bills will deepen the security alliance between the two countries, and the U.S. very much understands Japan’s efforts to cooperate with U.S. forces to deal with emergencies near Japan.

Regarding economic prospects, Obuchi said that the nation’s economy is about to bottom out and that he is confident Japan can achieve an economic growth rate of 0.5 percent in the current fiscal year.

He said Japan’s financial system will be further stabilized as institutions liquidate their non-performing loans and continue to reorganize. “I think factors that will hamper economic recovery will be removed in the 1999 fiscal year,” he said.

Obuchi denied that the government plans to compile a supplementary budget to shore up the nation’s economy and added that economic measures introduced since last year will be able to “produce results.”

There had been widespread speculation that Obuchi may announce a new spending package during a summit with Clinton.

He also denied any plan of bringing forward the LDP presidential elections or dissolving the Lower House to call a general election.

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