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Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009

Congratulatory Aso requests early meeting

Staff writer

The government congratulated new U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday and was quick to request an early meeting with him.

"I believe President Obama will exercise outstanding leadership and achieve great success," Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a statement released after the inauguration ceremony, expressing optimism that Obama will address the world's many challenges.

"I intend to work hand in hand with President Obama to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance," Aso said.

Japan is eager to become one of the first nations, or at least the first Asian country, to meet with the new U.S. administration as a sign that Washington prioritizes bilateral ties with Tokyo.

Aso may also be eager to become one of the first to meet him in hopes of boosting his slumping approval rate, experts said. But Obama is going to have his hands full dealing with domestic issues, most notably the ailing economy.

A Foreign Ministry official in charge of North American affairs said Aso will hopefully be able to meet with Obama before an economic summit scheduled for April in London.

"Obama's team is very well commanded and composed. Japan is probably in the first group" of countries Obama will agree to meet with, the Foreign Ministry official said, adding the meeting may take place in Washington before the London conference.

Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon before his inauguration and has revealed he will soon visit Canada for his first summit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Meanwhile, a senior Foreign Ministry official described Obama's inauguration speech as "unique," telling reporters that Obama is both modest and at the same time able to illustrate his administration's political priorities.

"The speech says that the weakened economy is due not only to the greed and irresponsibility of some, but also due to a collective failure to make hard choices. That is a very modest comment," he said.

Other highlights of Obama's speech were his pledge to bring peace to Afghanistan and his commitment to harness clean energy, including solar and wind power, to fight global warming, the official said.

Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka also stated in a news conference earlier this week that deepening ties with Washington is the foundation of Japan's diplomacy, and that it is vital for the two leaders to meet at an early stage.

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The Japan Times

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