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Japan-US alliance struggling: media

Talks between Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda and US President George W Bush reflected major challenges the bilateral alliance faces over crucial issues.

world Updated: Nov 18, 2007 14:49 IST

Talks between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and US President George W Bush reflected major challenges the bilateral alliance faces over issues including North Korea, local media said on Sunday.

The first summit talks between Fukuda and Bush "tried to stop the bilateral relationship from cooling," the Nikkei business daily said in its editorial.

Local media contrasted the summit with those by Bush and Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister between 2001 and 2006, who presented himself as a staunch supporter of Bush's "war on terror" by sending Japanese troops to Iraq.

"The hands-shake in the summit talks was awkward. That must be because they felt 'the end of the honeymoon period'" which was enjoyed by Bush and Koizumi, said regional newspaper Tokyo Shimbun.

"The president and the prime minister did not mention the de-listing (of North Korea as a terror sponsor)... That indicates they could not narrow the gap over the issue," it said.

Fukuda and Bush did not take any questions from reporters at a joint news conference after their talks because they feared revelation of differences between the allies, the Nikkei said.

Bush and Fukuda held their first formal face-to-face talks Friday in Washington, at a time when relations between the United States and its closest ally in Asia have run into a number of snags.

Washington did not hide its unhappiness earlier this month when the Japanese opposition forced a suspension of a naval mission to supply fuel to US-led forces in Afghanistan when its mandate expired.

Fukuda could not tell Bush exactly when Japan would resume the mission, as it depends on the debate in the parliament in which one of two houses is now controlled by the opposition.

For its part, Tokyo has urged Washington not to delist North Korea as a terrorism sponsor unless the problem of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s be resolved.

Bush promised to Fukuda that the United States "will not forget" the abduction issue but did not explicitly tie the issue to de-listing North Korea as a terrorism backer.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said Japan should keep calling on Washington "to make sure that North Korea come clean on its nuclear programmes."