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Sex Slave Issue Looms over Abe's 1st US Trip
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Japan's prime minister will make his first trip to the US as premier this month for summit talks on the Korean nuclear issue and Iraq, against a backdrop of renewed controversy over Japan's use of military brothels during World War II (WWII).

Shinzo Abe will visit the United States on April 26-27 and hold meetings with US President George W. Bush at Camp David before traveling to the Middle East, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki announced Wednesday.

The visit comes at a sensitive time, with US lawmakers considering a non-binding resolution urging Japan to apologize formally for forcing thousands of women into the brothels.

Abe has come under fire at home and abroad for suggesting in early March that there is no proof that the Imperial government or military coerced women into the brothels during the war, apparently backtracking a 1993 apology.

In a 20-minute phone call with Bush late on Tuesday to prepare for the trip, Abe said he stands by the government's landmark 1993 apology. Abe said he broached the subject to clarify any misunderstandings.

"Since my remarks on the so-called comfort women issue have not been accurately reported, I expressed my true intention to President Bush just to clarify," Abe said.

Bush told Abe that he appreciated his candor and noted that Japan today is not the Japan of WWII, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

The upcoming meeting will not be Abe's first with Bush. The two leaders met on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Vietnam last year, after Abe took office in September.

The US summit will touch on the ongoing war in Iraq, for which Japan has provided noncombat military support, as well as the six-party talks on reining in Pyongyang's nuclear program, Shiozaki said.

Japanese prime ministers usually visit the US, Japan's biggest ally, soon after taking office, but Abe has stressed his all-around foreign policy by visiting Europe and Asian neighbors first.

(China Daily via agencies April 5, 2007)

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