US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have affirmed their alliance and pledged to take a hard line with North Korea. Abe also addressed China-Japan tensions and boosting the Japanese economy.
"We just cannot tolerate the actions of North Korea, such as launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests,"
- Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister
Obama promised to work closely with Abe, who came to Washington in hopes of sending a strong signal of unity two months after his conservative Liberal Democratic Party swept back to power.
"You can rest assured that you will have a strong partner in the US throughout your tenure," Obama told Abe in the Oval Office, calling the alliance with Japan "the central foundation" for US policy on Asia.
Obama said the two leaders discussed "our concerns about the provocative actions that have been taken by North Korea and our determination to take strong actions in response".
North Korea on February 12 carried out its third nuclear test, ignoring warnings even from its ally China. Recently released satellite images have indicated that North Korea has again resumed activity at the testing site.
Abe, who first rose to political prominence as an advocate for a tough line on North Korea, said he agreed with Obama's position of not offering "rewards" to Pyongyang and on the need for a new UN Security Council resolution.
Speaking through a translator, Abe said the two leaders have agreed to deal "resolutely" with North Korea.
"We just cannot tolerate the actions of North Korea, such as launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests," said Abe, adding that the two leaders also agreed to push for tougher US Security Council sanctions against North Korea.
|Abe said US support was critical in row between Japan and China over disputed islands in East China Sea [Reuters]
But the White House appeared to want to ease tensions between Japan and China, which has increasingly sent vessels near Japanese-controlled islands known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Obama did not mention the issue but Secretary of State John Kerry, in a separate meeting with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, said he wanted to "compliment Japan on the restraint it has shown".
Last month, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned China not to challenge Japan's control of the islands, triggering a rebuke from Beijing.
Clinton also reiterated that the US considered the islands to be under Japan's de facto control and therefore protected under a US security treaty.
Abe seeks to boost Japan's military spending for the first time in more than a decade.
Obama called for further economic co-operation with Abe, who has pursued what the markets have dubbed "Abenomics", which includes setting an inflation target and a sharply expansionary monetary policy.
But the Obama administration held firm on a free trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Liberal Democratic Party had said during the election that Japan would only enter talks if certain sectors are exempt.
In a joint statement following the meeting, the two leaders agreed to continue their talks about Japan's "possible interest" in joining the trade pact, known as the TPP.
But they agreed that concerns remained, particularly with respect to the automotive and insurance sectors.
The US partnership with Japan, which hosts about 50,000 American forces, is an enduring one and a cornerstone of Washington's Asia policy, but establishing a personal rapport between leaders has been difficult.