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Japan's Abe To Make First U.S. Visit

Updated:
TOKYO (AP) _ Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make his first visit to the United States as premier later this month for a summit with President Bush, an official said Wednesday.

Abe will visit the United States on April 26-27 and hold talks with Bush at Camp David, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.

``We hope to confirm that the Japan-U.S. alliance is a stabilizing factor for the region, and we plan to discuss ways to strengthen the alliance for the world and for Asia,'' Shiozaki said.

The upcoming meeting, however, will not be Abe's first with Bush. The two leaders met on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Vietnam last year, after Abe took office in September.

After the U.S. visit, Abe will head to the Middle East with stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt, he said. Discussions will include the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Iraq war and Iran's nuclear ambitions, Shiozaki said.

``The Middle Eastern region, especially the countries in the Gulf area, are extremely important for Japan's energy security,'' he said. ``We plan to discuss ways to achieve stability in the Middle East.''

Last week, Japan's parliament approved a two-year extension of its airlift mission in support of Iraqi reconstruction. Tokyo earlier had backed the U.S.-led invasion and provided troops for a non-combat, humanitarian mission in the southern city of Samawah beginning in 2004.

Japan withdrew its ground troops in July 2006, and has since expanded its Kuwait-based air operations.

Abe spoke with Bush for about 20 minutes late Tuesday in preparation for the trip, the Foreign Ministry said.

During the phone call, Abe said he stands by a landmark 1993 apology issued to thousands of women forced into prostitution by Japan's military during World War II.

The premier spurred a wave of outrage around the region in early March by suggesting there was no proof the Imperial government or military coerced women into the brothels, apparently backtracking from Tokyo's 1993 apology for having forced women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Abe told Bush that he continues to support the apology, saying his true intent and statements were not correctly reported in the media, the Ministry said.
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