Japan, U.S. foreign ministers to meet, discuss Obama's Japan trip

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington next week to pave the way for a planned visit to Japan in April by President Barack Obama, a government source said Tuesday.

At the planned talks on Feb. 7, Kishida is expected to explain Japan's willingness to improve relations with South Korea and China, a move the United States wants to see to ensure stability in East Asia, according to the source.

Kishida is likely to tell Kerry that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in December, which Washington said was disappointing, was meant to be a way of reiterating that Japan will never again wage war.

Abe's visit to the Tokyo shrine angered China and South Korea, which regard the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

Kishida is also expected to reaffirm the Japanese government's position that it will steadily implement an accord with the United States to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture.

The government's plan to relocate the base from the densely populated area of Ginowan to the city of Nago was dealt a blow on Jan. 19 when Susumu Inamine, an opponent of the planned relocation, was re-elected as Nago mayor.

To combat such local opposition, Kishida and Kerry are likely to agree to speed up working-level consultations on concluding a new accord concerning environmental conservation and research at U.S. bases in Japan.

Moreover, the two are likely to confirm cooperation in concluding Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations at an early date.

Asked by journalists about the planned U.S. visit, Kishida said, "It's important to visit the United States, but nothing has been decided."

"I traveled to the United States four times last year. When I think of the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, it's vital to communicate" with Kerry and other senior U.S. administration officials, he said.

According to the source, Kishida plans to travel to the United States on Feb. 7 and return home on Feb. 9.