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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Japan's Abe heads to Washington
Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie board a plane for Washington - 26/04/07
Mr Abe says he wants frank discussions with Mr Bush
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has left for his first visit to the United States since taking office.

He is expected to discuss strengthening bilateral ties and co-operation over North Korea during talks with President George W Bush at Camp David on Friday.

Mr Abe broke with tradition when he became prime minister in September, by visiting China and South Korea before the US, Japan's closest ally.

His trip follows a furore over his recent comments on WWII sex slaves.

Mr Abe provoked an angry reaction in March after questioning whether there was any proof that the Japanese military kidnapped women to work as sex slaves during the war.

I will express my stance with an iron will of seeking a solution to the abduction issue
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

He has since stated several times that he stands by an official 1993 statement in which Japan acknowledged the imperial army set up and ran brothels for its wartime troops.

But he has expressed his opposition to a resolution currently going through the US Congress, which calls on Japan to make a formal apology over the use of so-called comfort women.

Mr Abe was expected to be greeted in Washington by protesters over the issue - a rare sight for visiting Japanese leaders to the US, Kyodo news agency reports.

'Iron will'

Before leaving for the US, Mr Abe said he hoped to build a relationship with Mr Bush "in which we can discuss everything frankly".

"The Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy and national security and as unshakable, irreplaceable allies, we need to build a firm relationship of trust," he told reporters.

ON THE AGENDA
North Korea's nuclear programme
Abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea
Joint ballistic missile defence system
Realignment of US troops in Japan
Japan's support for Iraqi reconstruction
Changes to Japan's pacifist constitution
Greater co-operation over climate change
Japan's easing of restrictions on US beef imports

Mr Abe is known for being a hardliner on North Korea and, in particular, its abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s.

He said he would discuss the need to "find a solution to the issues of nuclear arms, missiles and abductions" in co-operation with other nations.

"I will express my stance with an iron will of seeking a solution to the abduction issue," he went on.

High on the agenda will also be the two countries' military relationship, as well as climate change, Iraq and Japan's decision to ease restrictions on US beef imports.

Correspondents say Mr Abe's visit will be subdued in comparison to that of his flamboyant predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, who had a close relationship with Mr Bush.

On Mr Koizumi's last visit before leaving office, he wowed Americans with an Elvis Presley impersonation on a sideline visit to Graceland.

Mr Abe chose to broaden Japanese diplomacy when he took office, by breaking with a tradition that the new Japanese prime minister's first overseas visit be to Washington.

Instead, he went to China and South Korea in a bid to ease strained ties.

He met Mr Bush for the first time in November, on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Vietnam.

Mr Abe's visit to the US will also include a trip to the Arlington National Cemetery and dinner at the White House before he leaves for a five-nation tour of the Middle East.




SEE ALSO
Japan to ease controls on US beef
24 Apr 07 |  Business
Japan PM apology on sex slaves
26 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan anger at US sex slave bill
19 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese economy to 'overtake US'
11 Apr 07 |  Business
Japan moves to loosen army's role
13 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Security dominates US-Japan talks
21 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan, US sign defence pact
17 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Shinzo Abe
26 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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