The Washington Post

Obama to meet Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at White House

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. The Japanese prime minister is meeting President Barack Obama on Friday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Obama will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Friday afternoon to discuss a potential free trade pact, North Korea’s nuclear threat and the ongoing Japan-China skirmish over the disputed Senkaku islands.

White House officials said Obama will reaffirm the U.S.-Japan alliance two weeks after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test on the eve of Obama’s State of the Union address. Abe, the fifth Japanese leader since Obama took office in 2009, is scheduled to join the president in the Oval Office at 12:15 p.m., followed by a working lunch along with Vice President Biden at 1:15 p.m.

“Our response to the North Korean nuclear test and its broader pattern of provocative acts must start with very firm U.S. commitments to the security of our allies, Japan and South Korea,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Abe, a former prime minister re-elected on an aggressive platform of economic revival in the world’s third-largest economy, is expected to raise Japan’s interest in potentially joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S. trade pact involving South Korea and several Southeast Asian nations.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Abe said he considered the talks with Obama “important” in determining “whether or not Japan’s participation in the TPP will have a positive effect on the national interests of Japan.”

The issue is contentious, however, as U.S. automakers have balked at the idea of Japan joining the TPP until the country eases domestic markets for American vehicles.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said Thursday: “We hope the U.S. government will send a clear message that any future trade policies with Japan must ensure a level playing field.”

Mike Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international affairs, pledged that the administration has “made very clear from the start that addressing critical, outstanding issues including those that you referred to in the motor vehicle sector were an important precondition for considering Japan’s interest in joining TPP, and that’s been one of the subjects of consultations over the last -- almost a year now.  So we take those concerns very seriously, and we are in consultations with Japan over those issues.”

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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