Japan, US confirm cooperation on Syria

ST. PETERSBURG - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Barack Obama have agreed that Japan and the United States will cooperate closely in addressing the situation in Syria, as it is suspected that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons.

During talks on Thursday for about an hour on the sidelines of a summit meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in St. Petersburg, the Japanese and US leaders also confirmed that negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework should be concluded by the end of this year. The bilateral meeting was the first since one in Washington in February.

Obama, who is considering a military attack on war-torn Syria, sought understanding of the US stance, saying he and Abe had a "joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed."

Abe was quoted by sources as saying in response: "I took it as a weighty resolution. The use of chemical weapons can never be tolerated. It's clear the Assad regime is to blame." Abe also said: "I understand the president's stance. I'd like to express my respect for the United States' strong sense of responsibility to halt inhuman acts."

On TPP negotiations, Abe said, "The TPP is very important from a strategic viewpoint. We'd like to cooperate closely toward concluding the negotiations by the end of this year."

Abe also told Obama he would proceed with reviewing the government's interpretation of the Constitution that prohibits the exercise of the nation's right to collective self-defence, the sources said.

At a briefing on the bilateral summit talks, Ben Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, said Abe and Obama discussed the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture-over which tensions have escalated between Japan and China-and that Obama "made clear that he was opposed to any effort to resolve the Senkakus issue through coercion."