TOKYO U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for coordinated action to revive the global economy on Tuesday and invited Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to meet President Barack Obama at the White House next week.
Making Japan her first destination as secretary of state, Clinton also offered Aso's ailing government reassurance on the solidity of the U.S.-Japan alliance and on U.S. concerns about Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago.
It is unclear whether her gestures will help Aso, whose unpopular government is grappling with the worst recession in a generation and whose finance minister resigned on Tuesday after having to deny he was drunk at a G7 news conference.
In a sign Washington may be hedging its bets on the Aso government, Clinton also met the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa.
Speaking at a news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, Clinton said the two discussed "the economic challenges facing our two countries and the world as a whole, which demand a coordinated global response."
"As the first- and second-largest economies in the world, we understand those responsibilities," she said.
The two also signed an agreement to move 8,000 U.S. Marines from Japan's southern island of Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam, a transfer long in the works and that a U.S. general this month said might be delayed beyond its 2014 target date.
"This agreement ... reinforces the core of our alliance: this mission to ensure the defense of Japan against attack and to deter any attack by all necessary means," Clinton said, alluding to the nuclear umbrella the United States extends over Japan.
On a week-long Asia visit that will also take her to Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing, Clinton made time to visit Tokyo's Meiji shrine, have tea with the empress of Japan and meet the families of Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago.
'AMERICA IS READY TO LISTEN AGAIN'
After taking part in a purification ceremony at the Shinto shrine, Clinton said the head priest there had spoken to her "about the importance of balance and harmony."
Speaking to U.S. diplomats, Clinton drew an implicit contrast to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, whose legacy includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's not only a good concept for religious shrines, it's a good concept for America's role in the world," she said without citing Bush by name.
"We need to be looking to create more balance, more harmony."
She took another dig at Bush and his perceived unilateral tendencies when she spoke at Japan's elite Tokyo university.
"America is ready to listen again. Too often, in the recent past, our government has not heard the different perspectives of people around the world," she told students. "In the Obama administration, we intend to change that."
Clinton held a 30-minute meeting with the families of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea agents and said she found the experience moving.
"I'm a daughter, I'm a sister, I'm a mother. And I really cannot even imagine the pain they must feel every day," Clinton told Japanese broadcaster NHK in an interview. "So I reassured them that the abduction issue is a part of the six-party talks. It is a very important matter to President Obama and myself."
Shigeo Iizuka, who heads a group of families of the abductees, said Clinton had told them Washington would treat the issue as a priority.
"We told her that it was disappointing that the United States removed North Korea from its terrorism blacklist and asked if it would consider putting it back on," said Iizuka. "She told us that she would deal with it after careful investigation."
Iizuka told reporters he wished they had more time to discuss U.S. policy toward North Korea with Clinton.
"Clinton listened to us carefully with eye contact when we were talking about memories of those abducted. But I felt as if she paid less attention to other issues," Iizuka said.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Bill Tarrant)