Environment, US troops, security to top agenda in Obama's Japan visit

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U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Japan from Nov. 12 with a number of top issues to discuss with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, among others, the issues of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for U.S. troops based in Okinawa, the environment and Japan's future role in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks media attention has focused on the Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) pledge to change the nature of the alliance between the United States and Japan. Much attention has been on the DPJ's current consideration of changing the SOFA agreement, which would see around 10,000 U.S. troops remain on Okinawa and Japan help foot the cost of moving the 8,000 remaining forces to Guam by 2014, but this is unlikely to taint the visit of Obama.

"This visit is more of a welcome to Japan for Obama," said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University, who told Xinhua that the visit will be about photo opportunities and reaffirming friendships rather than brokering new agreements.

Media in Japan reported on Friday that the tensions surrounding the SOFA agreement would not play a central role in bilateral talks between the two leaders scheduled to take place this week, in line with Kingston's view. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada also said Sunday that there will no deal on U.S. troop relocation during Obama's visit.

Despite this, there will be plenty of other issues for the two leaders to discuss, and Afghanistan is likely to be high on the agenda.

Prime Minister Hatoyama has stated that once the law allowing Japan to participate in a mission in the Indian Ocean refueling U. S. and allied vehicles participating in the war in Afghanistan, it will not be renewed. The DPJ, however, has been quick to emphasize that this does not mean that the country will be withdrawing from all activities in Afghanistan and throughout the region.

"We are looking at offering income guarantees and vocational training so people will not have to turn to the Taliban but will be able to support their families in other ways," Okada said at a news conference last month.

In the lead up to U.N. Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen, which starts on Dec. 7, the two leaders will have plenty to discuss. Hatoyama announced at a September U.N. Meeting in New York that Japan will attempt to cut its emissions to 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. Japan's prime minister is hoping that other nations will follow Japan's lead and also start to reduce their emissions.

While it is unlikely that Obama will promise to cut emissions to such levels the president is currently struggling to get a health care reform bill signed into law he will undoubtedly express support for Hatoyama's proposal.

Obama has also said that he hopes to rid the world of nuclear weapons, which is very much in line with the DPJ's campaign pledge to "make efforts to facilitate the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty" and to "play a leadership role in the 2010 review conference on the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."

The two leaders will also likely reaffirm a unified front in negotiations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Undoubtedly, however, the priority for both countries will be reaffirming their friendship and beginning to build personal ties between the two leaders.

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