TOKYO - President Barack Obama is seeking to reassure Japanese leaders today that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges to Asia even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere.
The ominous standoff between Ukraine and Russia is threatening to overshadow Obama's four-country Asia swing that began Wednesday. He may decide during the trip whether to levy new economic sanctions on Moscow, a step that would signal the failure of an international agreement aimed at defusing the crisis.
But at least publicly, Obama will try to keep the focus on his Asia agenda, which includes reaffirming his commitment to a defense treaty with Japan, making progress on a stalled trans-Pacific trade agreement and finalizing a deal to modestly increase the American military footprint in the Philippines.
Obama steered clear of more sensitive topics like the trade and China tensions as he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sat down for a morning meeting at Tokyo's Akasaka Palace. Instead, Obama spoke of a U.S.-Japanese bond that transcends its military alliance.
"My visit here I think once again represents my deep belief that a strong U.S.-Japan relationship is not only good for our countries, but the world," Obama said.
Abe, speaking through a translator, said he and Obama would be discussing the future of the "indispensable and irreplaceable" alliance. He and Obama planned to answer questions from reporters after their meeting.
Obama opened the first state visit by an American president to Japan in nearly 20 years on Wednesday night, when he and Abe had dinner at Tokyo's famed sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. Abe told reporters Obama praised the meal as "the best sushi he had had in his life."