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US urges Japan to help end base row, clarify alliance

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (pictured on January 6) ...

The United States said it will urge the Tokyo government to help end a row over a US airbase and clarify its stand on a US-Japanese alliance that has underpinned security in Asia for 50 years.

Hillary Clinton will convey the message when she meets her Japanese counterpart Katsuya Okada in Hawaii on Tuesday when she begins her fourth tour of Asia since she became secretary of state one year ago, officials said.

President Barack Obama's administration welcomed Japan's new center-left government, but voiced irritation when it announced it may scrap the previously agreed relocation of Futenma airbase on southern Okinawa island.

During the talks in Honolulu, Clinton will tell Okada "how important it is to move forward on these issues in Futenma," Kurt Campbell, her top diplomat for Asian affairs, told reporters in Washington.

Clinton will also tell Okada that "we also have to have a very clear-headed recognition of how important this relationship is, how many aspects need to be maintained and engaged upon," Campbell said.

Campbell, who will travel with the chief US diplomat, praised the new Japanese government's multi-billion dollar financial support for US-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and combat global climate change.

"So there are a number of areas that we've seen very clear statements on the part of the Japanese government of wanting to work closely with the United States," the assistant secretary of state for Asia and Pacific affairs.

"But the truth is that this is a security alliance at its core," he said.

"And security issues are important in a complex and changing Asia, and we want a very clear set of statements on the part of the Japanese government of a desire to continue to work closely with us," said Campbell.

In the talks, Clinton and her team will discuss plans for marking the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan Security Alliance, "which will occur initially on January 19," he said.

During her visit to Hawaii, Clinton will also deliver a "major policy speech on the American approach to Asian (security) architecture at the East-West Center," he said.

Campbell attributed some of the problems in ties to the adjustment to governing made by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's center-left government, which was elected in August after half a century of conservative rule.

The new government pledged to review past agreements on the US military presence and to deal with Washington on a more "equal" basis.

Hatoyama's stated preference is to move the Futenma base off Okinawa or even outside Japan altogether, breaching an agreement signed in 2006 between previous conservative governments in Washington and Tokyo.

Since its defeat in World War II, officially pacifist Japan has relied on a massive US military presence to guarantee its security, initially as an occupier and later as an ally.

But the dispute over Futenma has raised fears among some Japanese that this alliance might cool, at a time when a rising China is making its presence felt across Asia.

Campbell said Clinton and Okada will also discuss mutual security concerns over the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. They will also discuss China's rising power, as well as the military junta in Myanmar.

Before leaving Hawaii on January 14 for Papua New Guinea, Clinton will meet with the US military's Pacific Command.

On January 15, Clinton will travel to Auckland, New Zealand. She travels to January 17 to Melbourne and Canberra, Australia.

In Canberra, Clinton and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will hold the 25th Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations with their counterparts Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defense Minister John Faulkner.

Clinton, Campbell said, will also seek advice from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Chinese speaker, about how the United States can better work with China, a rising global power, on issues ranging from Iran to climate change.

The US side will also seek his advice on Indonesia, with which Washington is forging a strategic partnership, he said.

He also welcomed Australian support for a strong US-Japanese alliance as key to Asian security.

Source: AFP

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