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Obama in Japan; mulls Afghanistan war options
Tokyo, Nov 13 (Agencies):
Published on 13 Nov. 2009 10:37 PM IST
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President Barack Obama arrived in Tokyo on Friday, aiming to shore up relations with a new Japanese government that vows to be more assertive with its US ally, even as he grapples with sending more US troops to Afghanistan. While public remarks from Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama are expected to stress their countries' enduring alliance, Obama's visit comes at a time of uncertainty in relations. Hatoyama has promised to end Japan's Indian Ocean refuelling mission that supports US-led forces in Afghanistan and to review an agreement on relocating American troops in Japan that Washington thought was settled three years ago. Obama arrived at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Friday beginning a four-nation Asia trip, his first to the region as president. Weighing on Obama is a pending decision on Afghan war strategy. Stopping off at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska on his way to Asia, Obama told a military audience he will commit more forces to Afghanistan only if it is vital to US interests and receives public support. "I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary to America's vital interests," Obama told the troops. "And if it is necessary," he said, "the United States of America will have your back. We'll give you the strategy and the clear mission you deserve. We'll give you the equipment and support you need to get the job done. And that includes public support back home." Afghanistan is a complicating factor in the trip to a rapidly changing Asia reordering itself around China's surging economic and diplomatic clout. Obama's chief goal, the White House has said, is to demonstrate US commitment to the region. Obama also will travel to Singapore for meetings with Southeast Asian leaders, and then to China and South Korea. Many governments are keen to see a revitalised US engagement in part to counterbalance China, and even a newly powerful Beijing says it welcomes a continuing US role in the region. Japan, long billed by Washington as the cornerstone of US Asia policy, is caught up in these shifts. Hatoyama came to power calling for a more equal partnership with Washington and a more positive embrace of China, which will soon supplant Japan as the world's No 2 economy. In a pre-trip interview with Japan's NHK network, Obama sought to minimise any friction and likened the election of Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan after nearly 50 years of rule by another party to a "political earthquake”. "I think that it is perfectly appropriate for the new government to want to re-examine how to move forward in a new environment," Obama said. " I don't think anybody expects that the US-Japan relationship would be the same now as it was 50 years ago or 30 years ago or 20 years ago."

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