Obama: Time is now to reach trade pact

 

President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said they had made progress on a range of security and trade issues during the first day of the president’s week-long visit to Asia.

Obama said he had stressed an “exceptional commitment to our alliance” and looked for ways to mutually “enhance our economic and diplomatic security.”

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That included declaring that a mutual security agreement with Japan applied to an island chain in the East China Sea over which Tokyo and Beijing have tussled in recent years, escalating tensions in the region.

And Obama said the leaders were “closer to agreement” on major issues like automobiles and agriculture blocking the completion of a major Pacific trade pact.

“Now is the time for bold steps that are needed to reach a comprehensive agreement,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Abe in Tokyo.

On the Senkaku Islands chain, Obama said he was hopeful the territorial dispute between China and Japan could be resolved diplomatically.

“Historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe they should be subject to change unilaterally,” Obama said.

The U.S. president said he emphasized the importance of “keeping the rhetoric low” and “not taking provocative actions” to Abe, saying it would “be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue instead of dialogue.”

“We want to continue to encourage the peaceful rise of China,” Obama said.

Obama also stressed that Beijing had a key role to play in helping to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, calling its participation “critically important.”

The president also stressed that countries had “responsibilities to maintain the basic rules of the road,” and stressed that the U.S. recognized the disputed territory as under Japanese administration for the purposed of the joint defense treaty.

"The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth, so obviously this isn't the red line that I'm drawing," the president said.

On trade, Obama argued that a Trans-Pacific trade deal would be crucial to helping Japan emerge from two decades of stagnant economic growth. He called the deal a “win-win situation” that would “ultimately” pay dividends for the United States.

But he also acknowledged that a deal would require both him and Abe to “push our constituencies beyond their current comfort levels.”

“Prime Minister Abe has to deal with his politics and I’ve got to deal with mine,” Obama said.

Democrats in the U.S. have openly rejected the idea of the free trade agreement, expressing concerns that it could hurt American employment.

Abe echoed Obama, saying that the remaining issues in the deal “must be overcome very quickly.”

“It’s strategically very important,” Abe said.

Following his press conference with Abe, the president met with three relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. The president was moved by their tragic experiences and reaffirmed commitment to work with Japan to address North Korea's deplorable treatment of its own people and resolve the issue of abductees, according to a White House pool report.

Later Thursday, Obama was slated to meet with Japanese students and attend a state dinner at the Imperial Palace. Before his talks with Abe, the president met with Japanese Emperor Akihito.