Abe, Obama confirm Japan-U.S. cooperation over Syrian conflict

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed their countries' cooperation over the conflict in Syria during telephone talks Tuesday, as Obama continued efforts to secure congressional support for a military strike against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

During their 30-minute conversation initiated by Washington, the two leaders agreed that the "use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international norms and cannot be tolerated," the White House said.

The telephone talks came after Obama said on the weekend that he will seek congressional approval for a possible U.S. strike against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over its alleged use of chemical weapons in rebel-held areas of Damascus in late August.

During the call, Obama said the United States has a clear basis for concluding that Assad's government used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 and it must be held accountable, according to Japanese officials.

Abe repeated the Japanese government's stance that it is highly likely that chemical weapons were used but stopped short of saying who was responsible, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

"As to who used the chemical weapons, we have been collecting and analyzing information by continuing to communicate closely with the countries concerned, including the United States," Suga said at a news conference.

Obama told Abe that it is important for the international community to send a clear and unified signal about the international norms against the use of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, noting the importance of working closely with other countries to that end.

Abe replied that Obama's announcement on Saturday regarding seeking congressional authorization was an expression of the president's "grave determination," adding that he will now closely watch developments in Congress, according to the officials.

The prime minister also requested that the United States continue efforts to obtain a resolution from the U.N. Security Council approving a military strike against Syria.

Many Japanese officials believe Japan should express its support for a U.S. strike should it happen, but Tokyo intends to watch closely how the situation unfolds given Britain's decision not to go along with the United States in punishing Syria and the strong reservations among the American public and lawmakers.

Touching on issues other than Syria, Abe and Obama agreed to "consult closely" in moving forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, with the president seeking a conclusion of the TPP negotiations "this fall," the White House said.

Meanwhile, Suga told a news conference on Tuesday that it would be "physically difficult" to arrange for Abe and Obama to sit down for talks on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday and Friday.

The top government spokesman noted that while Obama is expected to arrive in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit on Thursday afternoon, Abe is scheduled to cut short his attendance at the event and leave Thursday night for Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he will attend a meeting of the International Olympic Committee to select the host of the 2020 Summer Games.