Abe: Japan acting calmly in island dispute with China

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:58pm EST

1 of 2. U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, February 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday said he told President Barack Obama in a meeting that Japan would act calmly in its row with China over tiny islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Asian countries.

"I explained that we have always been dealing with this issue ... in a calm manner," he said through a translator, while sitting next to Obama in the White House Oval Office.

"We will continue to do so and we have always done so," he said.

Tension has raised fears of an unintended military incident near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. Washington says the islets fall under a U.S.-Japan security pact, but it is eager to avoid a clash in the region.

Abe said the existence of the Japan-U.S. alliance was a stabilizing factor in the area.

"We agreed that we would stay in close coordination with each other in dealing with such issues and other issues," he said.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters, said Japan was one of the United States' closest allies. He said the two men would discuss trade and other economic issues and agreed that their top priority was economic growth.

Obama declined to answer a reporter's question on whether they would discuss the Japanese yen.

Expectations for Abe's economic programs, especially monetary easing, have cut some 10 percent off the yen's value against the U.S. dollar since Abe took office, raising concern that Japan is weakening its currency to export its way out of recession.

Obama and Abe also discussed North Korea and agreed to cooperate at the United Nations over the issue. Abe said the two men also talked about additional sanctions against North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb last week in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)