Talks between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and US President George W. Bush reflected major challenges the bilateral alliance faces over issues including North Korea, local media said yesterday.
The first summit talks between Fukuda and Bush "tried to stop the bilateral relationship from cooling," the Nikkei Shimbun said in its editorial.
Local media contrasted the summit with those between Bush and Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister between 2001 and last year, who presented himself as a staunch supporter of Bush's "war on terror" by sending Japanese troops to Iraq.
"The hands-shake in the summit talks was awkward. That must be because they felt `the end of the honeymoon period,'" enjoyed by Bush and Koizumi, the Tokyo Shimbun said.
"The president and the prime minister did not mention the de-listing [of North Korea as a terror sponsor] ... That indicates they could not narrow the gap over the issue," it said.
Fukuda and Bush did not take any questions from reporters at a joint news conference after their talks because they feared revelation of differences between the allies, the Nikkei said.
Bush and Fukuda held their first formal face-to-face talks on Friday in Washington, at a time when relations between the US and its closest ally in Asia have run into a number of snags.
Washington did not hide its unhappiness earlier this month when the Japanese opposition forced a suspension of a naval mission to supply fuel to US-led forces in Afghanistan when its mandate expired.
Fukuda could not tell Bush exactly when Japan would resume the mission, as it depends on the debate in parliament, where one of two houses is now controlled by the opposition.
For its part, Tokyo has urged Washington not to delist North Korea as a terrorism sponsor unless the problem of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s is resolved.
Bush promised to Fukuda that the US "will not forget" the abduction issue but did not explicitly tie the issue to delisting North Korea as a terrorism backer.
The Yomiuri Shimbun said Japan should keep calling on Washington "to make sure that North Korea comes clean on its nuclear programs."
The Japanese leader will attend a regional summit in Singapore this week and hold talks with the leaders of China and South Korea, hoping to keep up a reconciliation drive launched by his predecessor.