Abe mulling attending Nuclear Security Summit in March

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering attending the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March, government officials said Monday.

The March 24-25 summit would provide Abe with an opportunity to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and have contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Obama and Xi are expected to meet bilaterally in The Hague, according to sources familiar with the development.

Abe will make a decision on his attendance while taking into account Diet deliberations on the fiscal 2014 state budget, with Japan's fiscal year set to commence April 1.

Abe "should attend (the summit) if he can manage the Diet schedule," said a government official close to the prime minister.

If a Japan-U.S. summit takes place in The Hague, Abe is expected to explain his visit last December to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that angered China and South Korea, and was criticized by the United States, according to the officials.

Beijing and Seoul denounced Abe's visit to the shrine, which they regard as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

The officials said Abe is hoping to secure U.S. understanding regarding the shrine visit and buttress the Japan-U.S. alliance in the meeting with Obama, amid China's more assertive stance over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

As China has rejected Abe's calls for a summit with Xi amid soured ties over the islets as well as differing perceptions of history, the two governments do not anticipate talks between the two leaders in the near future. But the leaders could have an informal exchange if Abe attends the summit.

Abe has repeatedly said "the door for dialogue is always open" with the leaders of China and South Korea.