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Obama, Abe declare progress, but no trade breakthrough

Associated Press Associated Press 28/04/2015 By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
Shinzo Abe, Jeffrey Buchanan: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, front left, puts his hand over his heart as the national anthem of Japan is played during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va., Monday, April 27, 2015. With the Japanese prime minister is Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commanding general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. © AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, front left, puts his hand over his heart as the national anthem of Japan is played during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va., Monday, April 27, 2015. With the Japanese prime minister is Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commanding general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared progress Tuesday in trade talks between their two nations, stopping short of announcing a breakthrough in negotiations that are central to a massive 12-nation trade deal that would open markets around the Pacific rim to U.S. exports.

Obama conceded the domestic obstacles both he and Abe face to concluding a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, but said the deal would be an integral component of his effort to increase U.S. influence in Asia and expand markets for U.S. exports.

"The politics around trade can be hard in both our countries," Obama, who faces stiff resistance from members of his own party, said during a Rose Garden news conference with Abe. "It's never fun passing a trade bill in this town."

Referring to the trade barriers on vehicles that have been one of the main sticking points in the U.S-Japan trade talks, Obama said: "There are many Japanese cars in America, I want to see more American cars in Japan as well."

Abe said he is eager to see "the early conclusion" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, adding that on outstanding issues over trade barriers "we welcome the fact that significant progress was made."

Before completing the deal, however, Obama must win expanded negotiating authority form the U.S. Congress, a difficult task given opposition from liberals and labor unions who say they fear the loss of American jobs.

Before sitting down for their Oval Office meeting, Obama welcomed Abe with full pomp and ceremony on a bright, dewy morning at the White House, calling the state visit a "celebration of the ties of friendship" and praising the alliance the U.S. and Japan have built over time.

Military honors and a gun salute greeted the Japanese leader in a South lawn arrival ceremony. A state dinner Tuesday evening with about 200 guests will cap Abe's day at the White House.

In one closely watched development, Abe sidestepped a question on whether he would apologize for the sexual enslavement of women by Japan's army during World War II. Abe instead said he was "deeply pained" by the suffering of "comfort women." He was using a euphemism for tens of thousands of Asian women who were forced to serve Japanese troops.

Abe's visit comes on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and he has faced demands that he use his trip to address Japan's use of sex slaves that included Korean women, Chinese and others. The issue has been a major irritant with South Korea, another U.S. ally, which has demanded an apology from Abe. It also prompted a small protest at the U.S. Capitol featuring Lee Yong-Soo, a woman now in her late 80s who has said that at age 16 she was taken from her home in Korea, shipped to Taiwan and forced to serve Japanese soldiers. The two years of servitude, she said, had "destroyed her life."

Obama and Abe also embraced revisions to U.S.-Japan defense guidelines that were announced Monday by foreign and defense ministers from both sides. The new rules boost Japan's military capability amid growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing. The changes, which strengthen Japan's role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern U.S.-Japan defense cooperation.

China's economic and military footprint hung over the Abe visit. In the face of China's rise, Obama has sought to display more U.S. economic and security might in the Asia-pacific region.

Obama rejected suggestions that trade and security deals present a threat to China.

He said the U.S. sees China as a booming potential market and partner for U.S. development efforts overseas, noting that hundreds of millions of Chinese have been pulled out of poverty in recent years. But he acknowledged "some real tensions" over China's maritime claims.

Shinzo Abe, Jeffrey Buchanan: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, is escorted by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, left of Abe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va., Monday, April 27, 2015.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, is escorted by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, left of Abe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va., Monday, April 27, 2015.
© AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
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