Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Bush hosts Japan's Abe for talks on North Korea

AFP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush was to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday for talks on pariah state North Korea, Tokyo's ever bolder global role and maybe even the leaders' shared love of baseball.

During two days of meetings, the White House hopes the leaders will build on a strategic relationship that grew under Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, one of Bush's closest international allies and staunchest backers of the war in Iraq.

"We are like-minded democracies pursuing a common agenda and, again, that transcends whether it's prime minister Koizumi or Prime Minister Abe," said Dennis Wilder, the US National Security Council's top East Asia hand.

"We see Japan as our greatest strategic partner in East Asia, and an increasingly indispensable global partner," Wilder told reporters on Wednesday in a preview of the trip, Abe's first visit here since taking office last year.

Abe left Japan yesterday for the US Andrews Air Force base near Washington.

"The Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy and national security and as unshakable, irreplaceable allies, we need to build a firm relationship of trust," he told reporters before leaving.

Wilder said Bush would reassure Abe during their talks at the White House and the Camp David presidential retreat about efforts to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Abe has also said he will press Bush on Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, amid worries in Tokyo that Washington may remove Pyongyang from its list of terrorism sponsors before the deeply emotional issue is resolved.

"We aren't going to de-link the abductee issue from the state sponsor of terrorism issue," Wilder said.

Japan has refused to fund an international deal to supply North Korea with energy in exchange for its nuclear disarmament unless there is progress on the abduction issue.

Bush also hopes the summit with Abe will "develop their personal relationship further," Wilder said.

Bush and Abe will also discuss Tokyo's increasingly bold global role and may touch on World War II era disputes roiling Japan's relations with its neighbors.

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