U.S. President Barack Obama held a 40-minute teleconference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday morning, during which he apologized for “causing trouble” in relation to leaked documents showing alleged spying by the U.S. National Security Agency on high-level Japanese officials and companies.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the announcement but he did not say whether Obama admitted the U.S. had spied on Japanese officials and companies, as alleged in the documents released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks earlier this month.
Obama said he knows the leaked documents caused a big stir in Japan and apologized for the trouble, Suga told a daily press briefing.
According to Suga, Abe told Obama that if Japanese parties had indeed been targeted by the NSA as alleged, it could seriously damage trust between the allied countries. Abe also demanded the U.S. conduct an investigation and report the results to Tokyo, Suga said.
Obama then agreed to continue “discussions” with Japan, Suga said without elaborating further.
Most of the phrases Suga quoted Obama as saying were almost identical to those used by Vice President Joe Biden during a teleconference with Abe earlier this month.
Abe apparently steered clear of taking a tough stance with Obama over the allegation because much of his foreign diplomacy hinges on Japan’s alliance with the United States.
If the spying allegations are true, it could be embarrassing for Abe. Ever since his inauguration in December 2012, Abe has boasted that he has worked to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with the U.S.
Abe is also pushing for the Upper House to enact two security bills that would, among other things, significantly expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ logistical operations to support U.S. military operations.
During Wednesday’s teleconference, the two leaders also spoke about recent events on the Korean peninsula and affairs related to China, Suga said, declining to give further details.
Obama also spoke about Abe’s statement to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, according to Suga.
“We refrain from explaining details, but (Obama) said he welcomed (Abe’s remark) as a whole,” Suga told the news conference.
Obama and Abe also agreed to cooperate on dealing with other issues such as global warming, and to work together to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, Suga said.
In his anniversary statement on Aug. 14, Abe quoted past government apologies, promised to uphold them and said Japan has pledged in general that “aggression” or war should not be repeated.
Abe, however, did not apologize in his own words, nor did he specifically mention Japan’s “aggression” against Asian nations during World War II. Many Japanese conservative politicians are reluctant to use such words because doing so would suggest international law was violated.