Monday, September 21, 2009

US ties, climate change focus of Hatoyama's debut

TOKYO - Just five days in office, Japan's prime minister left Monday for his debut on the world stage, where he is to meet with the leaders of the U.S., China and Russia and promote his ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases in a speech at the U.N.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was scheduled to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao after arriving in New York late Monday, then attend a climate summit at the U.N. starting Tuesday.

Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, left, waves as his wife Miyuki smiles before boarding a plane at Tokyo's Haneda Airport Monday, Sept. 21, 2009. Hatoyama is leaving Japan to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the G-20 summit at Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Hatoyama, whose party defeated the long-ruling conservatives in last month's elections, faces his biggest diplomatic test Wednesday, when he meets with President Barack Obama.

Japan has long been one of Washington's closest allies. Hatoyama's new government has said it wants to pursue a more independent relationship with the U.S., and will not extend the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of American troops in Afghanistan beyond January.

The U.S. is boosting troop levels in Afghanistan even as international support for the coalition wanes, and is loathe to lose the backing of an ally.

Hatoyama also has said he wants to review the U.S. military presence in Japan, where 50,000 American troops are stationed, although he said he doesn't plan to bring up that potentially contentious topic during his initial meeting with Obama.

"I'm going to meet with President Obama for the first time. I hope to build a good relationship so that I can gain his trust as a person," Hatoyama told a group of reporters before heading to the airport.

Hatoyama is also planning to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in New York on Wednesday.

Discussion topics will include climate change, the global economy and North Korea's nuclear program, a foreign ministry official said.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Hatoyama is to talk about his government's goal of a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 — among the most ambitious cuts proposed by an economic power.

He wants to "send a strong message to show Japan's commitment" to tackle the issue, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.

Hatoyama will then travel to Pittsburgh to attend the Group of 20 economic summit.

While Hatoyama has said he wants Japan to take a less passive role in its ties with the U.S., its main military ally and major trading partner, he also has been careful to reassure Japanese and Americans alike that the U.S. will remain the "cornerstone" of his government's foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Sunday that Japan is considering sending more financial aid to Afghanistan after the refueling mission ends. During an interview on TV Asahi, Okada said it was unlikely that Japan would send troops, even for a noncombat role as it did in Iraq. Japan's pacifist constitution prohibits offensive military operations.

Okada left for New York to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton later Monday. He wants to reconfirm the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance during that meeting, the foreign ministry official said.

Last week, Clinton played down differences with Hatoyama's government, saying she expects new policies in Tokyo, just as the Obama administration has forged different approaches than the Bush administration.

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