TOKYO - Japan will reassure the United States that their alliance is in good shape, Tokyo said on Thursday, as a feud over a Marine base strains relations ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama.
Japan's new government has pledged to steer a diplomatic course more independent of its key ally, raising worries about the alliance which is central to security arrangements in a region home to a rising China and an unpredictable North Korea.
But Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he wanted to allay such concerns in talks on Friday with Obama, who will make his first visit to Japan as president.
There are many people (in the United States) who have been supportive of our new government, while there are those who have been worried about the change, Hatoyama told reporters.
One big purpose of the Japan-U.S. summit is to tell those who are concerned that there is nothing to be worried about, that things are all right.
Obama and Hatoyama are expected to turn down the heat in a dispute over the U.S. Marines Futenma air base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, a key part of a realignment of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan.
U.S. officials have made crystal clear they want Tokyo to implement a 2006 deal under which Futenma, now located in a crowded part of Okinawa, would be closed and replaced with a facility in a remoter part of the island.
But Hatoyama said before the August election that swept his Democratic Party to power that the base should be moved off the island, reluctant host to more than half the U.S. forces in Japan.
No breakthroughs are expected on the issue during Obama's visit, although Hatoyama said on Thursday he would tell the U.S. leader that he wants to resolve the issue soon.
The two sides will instead likely stress the positive as they look for ways to adjust the decades-old alliance to changes in the region.
I will obviously be discussing bilateral issues with President Obama, but I also want to spend time talking about more global issues, Hatoyama said.
The mass circulation Yomiuri newspaper said the two leaders would issue a statement pledging to cooperate to promote nuclear disarmament, as well as calling on North Korea to rejoin stalled multilateral talks on its nuclear arms program and urging Iran to allay suspicions about its atomic energy program.
As the leader of the only country to suffer atomic bombings, Hatoyama has backed Obama's calls for a world free of nuclear arms -- although presently Japan relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for deterrence.
The leaders will also agree to cooperate in developing environmental and energy technologies, including capturing and storing emissions, the Nikkei business daily reported.
About 50 protesters gathered near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday, calling for U.S. military bases to be moved out of Japan and for the United States to end the war in Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Linda Sieg, Yoko Kubota; Editing by Hugh Lawson)