- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meeting with the Japanese prime minister on the margins of the G-8 Summit in France, President Obama on Thursday assured the ally that the U.S. stands behind his country as it recovers from March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Officials said Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Naoto Kan, speaking face-to-face for the first time since the disaster, did not discuss nuclear security in depth, even as Japan struggles to contain the fallout from the meltdowns of several nuclear reactors. The crisis has led some members of the Group of 8 to rethink their reliance on nuclear energy.

“The U.S. will stand by Japan for as long as it takes to help recover,” the president said in a brief statement to reporters. “And we are confident that Japan will emerge from these difficult times stronger than ever.”

For his part, Mr. Kan thanked the president for sending a U.S. aircraft carrier and nuclear experts to aid his country.

Mr. Obama, who has been sure to punctuate a weeklong European trip with recognition of extreme weather incidents in the U.S., said the two countries will continue to collaborate on a range of security issues in Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

White House officials said Mr. Kan will make an official visit to Washington sometime in September.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev upon arriving in Deauville, France, where he praised the “outstanding relationship” they have established in the past two years.

“As a consequence, we’ve been able to reset relations between the United States and Russia in a way that is good for the security and the prosperity of both of our countries,” he said.

But while the two leaders were diplomatic in brief remarks to reporters after their private talks, they could not point to concrete signs of progress on several thorny issues, including missile defense. U.S. plans to station missile interceptors throughout Eastern and Central Europe through 2020 has drawn vehement opposition from its former Cold War foe.

At least publicly, the men tiptoed around the subject, though Mr. Medvedev hinted that little progress had been made on the disagreement.

“I have told my counterpart, Barack Obama, that this issue will be finally solved in the future, like, for example, in the year 2020, but we, at present, might lay the foundation for other politicians’ activities,” the Russian leader told reporters through a translator. “And this would be a sound foundation for cooperation between our two countries in the future. We will, of course, pursue this track, but political impetus are necessary.”

Of course, missile defense is far from the only topic the two countries see differently. Russia has been highly critical of the NATO operation in Libya, describing a recent escalation in airstrikes as exceeding the authority of a U.N. no-fly-zone resolution. It also has been more reluctant to criticize Syria, whom the U.S. and European countries have excoriated for a violent crackdown on protesters.

Missile defense is certain to come up during Mr. Obama’s visit to Warsaw, Poland, at the end of the week. In September 2009, the president scaled back missile defense plans from the George W. Bush presidency that called for placing 10 interceptor missiles and a radar facility in the Czech Republic and Poland, a reliable U.S. ally that provided troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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