TOKYO - The United States and Japan will agree this week to review their decades-old security alliance to tighten ties long term, a Japanese newspaper said Wednesday, as the two countries struggled to keep a feud over a U.S. military base from spoiling their leaders' summit.
Tokyo and Washington are expected to turn down the heat in the row during President Barack Obama's two-day stay from Friday, the start of an Asian tour, but recasting the alliance as the partners adapt to China's growing clout will be tough.
Obama and new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has pledged to steer a diplomatic course more independent of Washington, will reach the agreement on reviewing the alliance at their summit on Friday, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
The two sides would aim to wrap up the discussions by next November when Obama will be back in Japan for an Asia-Pacific leaders' summit, the paper said.
Hatoyama has said he wanted to conduct a comprehensive review of the alliance, which marks its 50th anniversary next year, to create a multi-layered relationship long term.
Obama, in an interview with NHK public TV on Tuesday, stressed the importance of the ties, long seen as central to regional security arrangements.
We depend on Japan as a stalwart ally on a whole host of global issues that we work on together and so I have both great affection for the Japanese people personally, but also understand the important strategic relationship that we have to continually nurture, Obama told NHK public TV in an interview aired Tuesday.
I think that Prime Minister Hatoyama understands that the core fundamentals of this relationship are unchanged.
The dispute over the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa has threatened to cloud Obama's visit to Japan, his first as president.
Under a 2006 agreement, the two governments agreed to close Futenma, located in a crowed part of Okinawa, and replace it with a facility in a remoter part of the island as part of a broader plan to reorganize the 47,000 U.S. forces in Japan.
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 over half the U.S. forces in Japan.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton in Singapore that a new bilateral working group would aim to resolve the issue as fast as possible -- a time-frame a U.S. official said separately meant the next couple of months.
But Okada added: I also explained to her the history of Okinawa, that it was once an independent country and that during World War Two about 100,000 civilians lost their lives.
So when Prime Minister Hatoyama said he wants to take into consideration the feelings of the Okinawa people, this is the background in which he's making the comments.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Yoko Kubota in Tokyo and Kazunori Takada and David Alexander in Singapore)