N. Korea to dominate Obama's talks with Japanese leader

North Korea's recent nuclear test will be front and center when President Obama meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, White House officials said.

The two leaders will have two separate meetings, the National Security Council's senior director for Asia, Danny Russel, told reporters on a conference call. The first will center on “security and diplomatic issues,” followed by a working lunch dedicated to trade and the economy.

“Obviously, and of necessity, they will talk about North Korea — both the recent events and the overall situation in the Korean peninsula and in the region,” Russel said. “We can be confident that throughout, President Obama will reaffirm to Prime Minister Abe his strong commitment to the alliance and to regional stability, his resolve in the face of North Korea's provocations and ... the strategic priority that the president continues to place on the Asia-Pacific region.”

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last Monday in what it said was retaliation for United Nations sanctions prompted by last year's missile launch. Since then, the regime of Kim Jong Un has threatened South Korea with “final destruction” and said it would take “second and third stronger steps in succession” if threatened by the United States.

Obama vowed in his State of the Union address one day after the test to “stand by our allies.” Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said Obama wasn't expected to announce any new military deployments in the region during his meeting with Abe but would recommit to maintaining a “robust defense posture in northeast Asia.”

“At the root of that, of course, is our alliance with Japan,” Rhodes said. “And we will continue in the future to have very strong defense relationships with Japan, South Korea, and other countries in the region that will include military exercises and a range of other defense cooperation.”

Rhodes didn't miss a chance to call on Congress to take action to avoid sequestration, which will cut the Defense budget by $500 billion over 10 years — including $46 billion this year. The cuts are scheduled to start March 1.

“The North Korean provocation only highlights the importance of those defense relationships and the importance of having a strong U.S. presence in Northeast Asia and in the region more broadly,” he said. “That, too, is, frankly, a reason why we have prioritized, for instance, in our defense budget strategy the Asia Pacific region in terms of the resources we allocate for our defense strategy. Yet another reason, frankly, why we would expect and urge Congress to take action to avert the sequester, given the range of defense commitments that we have, including in Northeast Asia, related to the recent North Korean provocation.”