White House scrambles to win Japan’s support for Syria strikes

September 5, 2013
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama before the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St. Petersburg, September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes President Obama before the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St. Petersburg, Sept. 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor )

How much does President Obama want international support for his Syria plans? So much that the White House apparently rescheduled a bilateral meeting with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after initially rebuffing the Japanese leader.

Obama met with Abe on Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia, where both are attending the G-20 economic summit. But, according to a source with knowledge of the planning, the White House initially had told Japanese officials that Obama would not have time to meet with Abe, who is leaving the summit early to head to Argentina to make a pitch for Japan to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

With the meeting off, Japan's ambassador in Washington, Kenichiro Sasae, canceled his trip to St. Petersburg, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations. Instead, Obama and Abe spoke by phone Monday, discussing Syria among other topics.

On Wednesday, the White House announced Obama would, in fact, meet with Abe in St. Petersburg on Thursday, pushing off a scheduled meeting with Russian gay and lesbian activists until Friday. The decision surprised some in Japan's Washington embassy, with speculation that the administration was looking to lock up Japan's support for limited U.S. military strikes on Syria.

After the bilateral meeting, Ben Rhodes, the Obama administration's deputy national security adviser, said that the U.S. and Japan are "in agreement that there needs to be a response" to Syria's use of chemical weapons.

"In the spirit of our alliance," Rhodes said, the two leaders expressed confidence that the would come to a "shared position" on Syria.

An administration spokeswoman did not respond immediately to an email request for comment.


David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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