Japan, U.S. confirm cooperation over Syria crisis

Japan and the United States agreed in a summit Thursday to work closely to improve the situation in Syria and conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations by the end of this year, a Japanese government official said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama also agreed the two countries should enhance defense ties and trilateral cooperation involving South Korea is important to deal with North Korea's nuclear development.

The Japanese and U.S. leaders reached the agreements during their talks on the fringes of a two-day summit of the Group of 20 economies from Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia.

At the outset of the meeting, Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not "only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed."

Abe told Obama that Japan has been concerned about the "very high possibility" the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons and that should be unacceptable.

Abe said it is undeniable that the Assad regime is responsible for the worsening situation surrounding Syria and the international community needs to be united and send a clear signal to the Assad regime, according to the Japanese official.

Japan will work closely with the international community, including the United States, to "improve and normalize" the Syrian situation, Abe was quoted as telling Obama.

Abe also said Japan intends to participate in relevant conferences aimed at ending violence in Syria such as the so-called Geneva 2 meeting, a proposed meeting that will follow up on the first such conference that took place in June 2012.

The bilateral talks took place as Obama has been drumming up support from not only from Congress but the leaders of other countries for possible military action against the Syrian regime.

But Obama did not mention anything related to the possible military action during the talks with Abe, according to the official.

On the trans-Pacific free trade talks, Obama said the United States and Japan are both "committed to completing this year the negotiations around the TPP."

Abe said the issue of the U.S.-led trade pact is important for Japan "from a strategic viewpoint" and his government will work closely with the U.S. government toward concluding it by the end of this year, according to the official.

On the bilateral defense cooperation, Abe explained his plan to set up a national security council, draft a next National Defense Program Guidelines and review the legal interpretation of the Constitution regarding the use of Japan's rights of collective self-defense.

Abe also pledged to push the stalled bilateral plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture amid continued local opposition.

Abe and Obama agreed to hold the so-called two-plus-two bilateral security dialogue at an early date, the official added.