WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday with full pomp and ceremony on a bright, dewy morning at the White House, calling the state visit a "celebration of the ties of friendship" and praising the alliance the U.S. and Japan have built over time.
Military honors and a gun salute greeted the Japanese leader in a South lawn arrival ceremony. Trade and security issues topped the agenda for his meeting with Obama. The day will be capped by a State Dinner with about 300 guests.
"Prime Minister Abe is leading Japan to a new role in the world stage," Obama said.
Abe, speaking in Japanese, said he and Obama have been working to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance since they met two years ago.
"Now our bilateral relationship is more robust than ever," he said.
The two leaders will huddle in the Oval Office and also hold a joint news conference.
The visit aims to highlight the reconciliation between two nations once at war and to point the way toward expanded economic ties. The two countries are working toward a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would further open vast Asian and Pacific rim markets to U.S. exports.
Obama faces stiff resistance to the trade deal among members of his own political party.
While Obama and Abe won't be ready to announce a trade breakthrough, officials on both sides say they will likely declare they have made considerable progress in closing remaining gaps. The toughest sticking points are U.S. tariffs on Japanese pickup trucks and barriers in Japan on certain U.S. agricultural products.
Abe's visit comes on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and has already prompted demands that he use his trip to address the use of sex slaves by the Imperial Army during the war. The issue has been a major irritant with South Korea, which has demanded an apology from Abe.