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Obama opens Japan trip at famous sushi restaurant



By DARLENE SUPERVILLE

TOKYO (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday opened a four-country Asia tour aimed at reassuring allies in the region that the U.S. remains a committed economic, military and political partner that can serve as a counterweight to China's growing influence.

The president kicked off his trip on an informal note, joining Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a famous Tokyo sushi restaurant with hard-to-come-by reservations and a hefty price tag. Obama and Abe greeted each other warmly outside Sukiyabashi Jiro, the underground sushi restaurant run by 88-year-old Jiro Ono.

The outing was unusually casual by Japanese standards and underscored the effort by both countries to strengthen the personal relationship between Obama and Abe.

The two leaders will hold more formal talks Thursday, with Obama aiming to promote the U.S. as a committed economic, military and political partner. But the West's dispute with Russia over Ukraine threatens to cast a shadow over the president's sales mission.

Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit

Relations between neighbors Russia and Ukraine remain tense nearly a week after both countries, the U.S. and the European Union inked an agreement in Geneva calling on Moscow to use its influence over pro-Russian forces to have them lay down their arms and end their occupation of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. Each side accuses the other of failing to uphold its end of the deal.

The White House, which lays the blame squarely on Russia and praises Ukraine for behaving responsibly, has said it is monitoring the situation closely and is prepared, without being specific about a timeline, to slap additional sanctions on Russia "in the coming days" if it fails to abide by the terms of the tenuous deal.

The U.S. response in Ukraine has unsettled some Asian countries, leaving them to wonder how reliable a partner the U.S. would be if they ever faced a similar situation given their own sea and air disputes with China. Ahead of his arrival in Tokyo, Obama sought to reassure Japan that its security pact with the U.S. does apply to the islands at the center of a territorial dispute with Beijing.

"The policy of the United States is clear," he said in a written response to questions published in Japan's Yomiuri newspaper before his arrival in Tokyo at the start of a four-country Asia tour. Obama said he opposes "unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands" and said the disputes need to be resolved "through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion."

Leaders in China will be closely watching Obama's eight-day Asia trip, particularly his efforts to show a united front with Abe. Obama and the Japanese prime minister greeted each other warmly outside the sushi restaurant Wednesday night. They were accompanied by only a handful of close advisers, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice.

The party was expected to be treated to Jiro's multiple-course, $300-per-person set sushi menu. The chef's meticulous preparation was detailed in the 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

Obama's trip is a do-over of the Asia tour Obama had scheduled last October but canceled in the midst of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government. As with last fall's trip, the White House wants to keep the focus on Obama's promised "rebalance" of U.S. policy toward Asia, after years of attention on the Middle East and the fight against terrorism.

In Japan, Obama and Abe are expected to discuss trade and security concerns, including China and North Korea, among other issues. Ukraine may be on the agenda, too; Japan backs existing Western sanctions against Russia for taking the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine. Japan also has provided financial support to Ukraine's interim government.

The U.S. and its close regional ally Japan are the largest economies among 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal with several Asian countries that could have served as a centerpiece for Obama's visit. The U.S. had wanted to wrap up the deal by the end of last year, but the talks have stalled, with the U.S. and Japan remaining "at a considerable distance" over trade in farm products and vehicles, Japan's economy minister Akira Amari told reporters Tuesday.

No significant breakthroughs or announcements were expected this week. U.S. officials have said the talks will continue well after Obama leaves.

"The betting is against it," said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

A U.S.-Japan agreement is seen as crucial for progress on the broader deal that would set 21st century trade rules for the dozen nations. Whenever the TPP talks conclude, Obama would face the additional burden of getting the deal through Congress, where fellow Democrats in both chambers oppose legislation that would smooth its passage.

---

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

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Rkmidland April 23 2014 at 4:40 PM

$300.00? That's Expensive? Hell I've spent more than that at a steak house.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
b.shagnasty Rkmidland April 23 2014 at 6:05 PM

Big difference...You spent.
You didn't spend your neighbors cash!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Cap'n Mikey April 23 2014 at 12:00 PM

The United States has been surrendering to Japan on trade since 1945, try to sell a Ford or Chevrolet in Tokyo. (or an American steak!) They make it nearly impossible to sell American products there, as we welcome the Toyotas, Nissans, Komatsu earthmovers, etc. Seiko watches and Canon cameras..with little or no duties. After thousands of GI's were killed taking Okinawa, we gave it back to the Japanese without demanding any reparations.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
ALAN SPORN April 23 2014 at 1:01 PM

hope he will, but know he won't, visit our #1 ally, the ROC

Flag Reply +3 rate up
theomegaman72 April 23 2014 at 8:00 PM

Kinda hard to complain to Japan about their slaughtering dolphins when you're over there throwing back sushi rolls made from endangered bluefin tuna

Flag Reply +10 rate up
impactvqi April 23 2014 at 11:48 AM

Why such a hefty price tag? Because when you have someone come in and do not ask how much it cost, you charge higher

Flag Reply +3 rate up
goodgrief61945 April 23 2014 at 8:12 PM

China's growing influence could be easily dealt with. Just STOP buying all their junk!!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
3 replies
killkubota April 23 2014 at 11:46 AM

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a very good documentary about the place where they ate. $300.00 per dinner.

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1 reply
mestranger2all killkubota April 23 2014 at 11:56 AM

what about it makes it need to be underground or am I reading this wrong. there is very little talk about the sushi or restaurant but yet calls it underground

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Rays89 April 23 2014 at 1:16 PM

$300 is enough to feed a family for a week. But thats the perks of being the ruling party.

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1 reply
Joy Rays89 April 23 2014 at 1:42 PM

The Japanese paid for the meal silly. Why do you comment without reading?

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Tom April 23 2014 at 3:10 PM

"aimed at reassuring allies in the region that the U.S. remains a committed economic, military and political partner "
Now that is funny. Our economy is destroyed by our politicians and we are going to make them do better.
Both parties have had alot of brain storms over the last years. And as it has turned out they were brain farts and we are the ones that pay.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
jdsept Tom April 23 2014 at 3:16 PM

The political parties did not create the poor economy, greedy bankers and a poor world economy did. No thing done in 08 caused the fall now did it. Neither Bush nor the Dem Congress in power at the time. Yes we are partners in the region with certain countries and have been for a long time.

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1 reply
smashingmonkey jdsept April 23 2014 at 3:56 PM

The politicians made the '08 disaster happen because they (republican and democrat alike) refused to meaningfully regulate Wall Street -- especially the derivatives market. Clinton should get a lot of the blame. Wall Street engaged in fraud, and they were greedy. But stupid politicians let it happen. And then let the Wall Street bozos off the hook entirely.

Flag +1 rate up
franktabata April 23 2014 at 8:53 PM

When he comes to Honolulu again he will have to visit Sushi Sasabune. Not quite as expensive but arguable the best sushi restaurant in the US.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
jr3261 franktabata April 23 2014 at 8:55 PM

He, Michelle and their 300 closest friends as well as all of the SS to protect them!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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