Source AP ©

Japan's PM visits US to meet Bush

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on his first overseas trip as Japan's leader.

Fukuda is expected to assure Bush that Japan will do all it can to quickly resume a naval mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S. troops when the two leaders meet at the White House Friday.

The leaders also were likely to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea and Tokyo's concerns over the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s.

"It is important to strengthen and promote Japan-U.S. relations and have broad-ranging exchanges," Fukuda told reporters Thursday before his departure.

Japan believes the North abducted more than a dozen of its citizens. It has refused to provide economic aid or restart normalization talks until the issue is settled.

Officials stress that resolution of the kidnapping issue remains a crucial point for Tokyo and Fukuda is expected to push the U.S. to keep North Korea on a blacklist of countries that support terrorism until the issue is resolved.

Fukuda, who took office in September, has struggled with a stronger opposition bloc, which effectively scuttled a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean which began in 2001 to support U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The Japanese ships involved in the mission are now returning home, but a bill is in the works that would allow a redefined deployment in the same area to focus on anti-terrorism patrols. The bill already has passed the lower house of Japan's parliament.