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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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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
davidirv April 23 2014 at 12:44 PM

You have to Sign In first to leave a comment.Obama does not care about us folks. I can not wait till he is out of office. What a waste of 8 years. Incompetent, mediocre, aloof, failure come to mind when referring to this disaster of a president.

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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
Jim April 23 2014 at 12:44 PM

After Obama lied to me that I would be able to keep my healthcare policy and my doctor, why would I believe anything out of this man's mouth ever again?

Flag Reply +11 rate up
2 replies
Avatarxx1 Jim April 23 2014 at 12:53 PM

I would suggest to you that you may be lying to us. Just like the ones Fox (faux) put on the air a couple months ago. Found out they weren't telling the truth and of course, Fox (faux) didn't apologize.

You'd have to prove it to all of us why you healthcare was "cancelled" and why. And, don't come back and say you don't know because, of course, you do know, if, in fact it happened.

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Mike Jim April 23 2014 at 12:54 PM

If he opens his smirky mouth it's to tell a lie.

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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.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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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straight2spam April 23 2014 at 1:19 PM

WHAT COUNTRY IN THIS EARTH HAVE`NT MUCH ON THE U.S.A., THEY`RE LEACH IN DISGUISED.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
nepatriots1941 April 23 2014 at 1:19 PM

Hurry up Karma.....!!!...We really need you...He and the Mrs. are the most disgusting things to ever fall upon our country as well as those old gold digging, uneducated, foolish, corrupt shameful American failures ever in the history of America..!!...This ass goes to all these countries and sends us all these messages(thru this corrupt news media) how wonderful all this is and we have as many as 1/3 or more of the children in this country starving...We Americans pay the tax in this country for him, illegals, welfare thieves, etc., to live off the land and do nothing to respect her....How vile is it that Obama has terrorists in the White House.. His wife has some really disturbing issues herself....Even children are refusing this lame woman's pretense to know something about feeding children and as I see that the children are refusing her interference in the menu in public schools...WTH....!!!!....Now I hear he is signing yet another "law" of his that he wants Martial Law...!!!!....AND..how about those good old banks....Now as of July 1st they will be taking control of your money and THEY(Government) will be telling YOU how much money you are allowed to take from your account....How about those apples....When are we going to take back control of our country....The ones who will suffer most are the poor and the children....I am sooo ashamed of the corrupt politicians in our once respected offices in America...And I am ashamed of America for allowing such disrespect not only for our country but our citizens, our flag, our service personnel, and our young children.....May God have mercy on our souls.....
Thanks,
Lela Campbell
Woodbridge, VA

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
vobox3343 nepatriots1941 April 23 2014 at 1:54 PM

What an embarrassment you are to the Old Dominion. And then to evoke the name of God after your disgusting and hateful diatribe. Oh, and if America disgusts you so, see if there is some other place you can live where you can freely speak as if mentally disturbed. You should be ashamed. But alas, no pride at all. Only the most clueless or dumbest among us would list their full name and location after spewing such garbage. An attitude change is definitely in order.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
outcold nepatriots1941 April 23 2014 at 2:19 PM

AND THE ENVY CONTINUES

Flag Reply 0 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.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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

Flag Reply 0 rate up
barnardb3 April 23 2014 at 9:39 PM

I hardly believe that:
1- The reservations for the Prime Minister and our President were hard to come by.
2- That $300 apiece carried much thought for either party.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
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