Obama offering Japan security, economic assurances

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President Barack Obama, center, reviews troops during a welcome ceremony as he arrives at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama, center, reviews troops during a welcome ceremony as he arrives at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands as they arrive to participate in a bilateral meeting at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama walks with with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko after taking part in a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, President Barack Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. The ominous standoff between Ukraine and Russia threatens to overshadow Obama’s four-country Asia swing. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama, front left, walks with Japanese Emperor Akihito, second left in front, and his wife Empress Michiko as he arrives for a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

U.S. President Barack Obama, center, inspects an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo Thursday, April 24, 2014. Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. (AP Photo/Yuya Shino, Pool)

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TOKYO (AP) — President Barack Obama is seeking to reassure Japanese leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges to Asia even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere.

The ominous standoff between Ukraine and Russia is threatening to overshadow Obama’s four-country Asia swing that began Wednesday. He may decide during the trip whether to levy new economic sanctions on Moscow, a step that would signal the failure of an international agreement aimed at defusing the crisis.

But at least publicly, Obama will try to keep the focus on his Asia agenda, which includes reaffirming his commitment to a defense treaty with Japan, making progress on a stalled trans-Pacific trade agreement and finalizing a deal to modestly increase the American military footprint in the Philippines.

Obama steered clear of more sensitive topics like the trade and China tensions as he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sat down for a morning meeting at Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace. Instead, Obama spoke of a U.S.-Japanese bond that transcends its military alliance.

“My visit here I think once again represents my deep belief that a strong U.S.-Japan relationship is not only good for our countries, but the world,” Obama said.

Abe, speaking through a translator, said he and Obama would be discussing the future of the “indispensable and irreplaceable” alliance. He and Obama planned to answer questions from reporters after their meeting.

Obama began his day with a call on Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace, a lush park-like complex surrounded by modern skyscrapers where he was greeted by a military honor guard and children holding U.S. and Japanese flags. After taking in the scene, the president, emperor and empress walked along a maze of red carpet into the palace for a private meeting, with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and other aides trailing behind.

The president told the emperor that the last time they met, he did not have any gray hairs. “You have a very hard job,” the emperor replied.

Obama opened the first state visit by an American president to Japan in nearly 20 years on Wednesday night, when he and Abe had dinner at Tokyo’s famed sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. Abe told reporters Obama praised the meal as “the best sushi he had had in his life.”

Later Thursday, Obama planned to return to the Imperial Palace for a state dinner. He also plans to visit the Meiji Shrine, which honors the emperor whose reign saw Japan emerge from over two centuries of isolation to become a world power.

Obama’s stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines serve as something of a do-over after he canceled a visit to Asia last fall because of the U.S. government shutdown. The cancellation provided fresh fodder for those in the region who worry that the White House’s much-hyped pivot to Asia is continually taking a backseat to other foreign and domestic priorities.

“I think the president will want to make clear that this commitment will be unaffected by developments in Ukraine and other global events,” said Jeffrey Bader, Obama’s former Asia director. “Countries want to hear that the U.S. presence is in fact steady and strong as China rises.”

While China is not on Obama’s eight-day itinerary, leaders in Beijing will be closely watching the president’s tour. Obama’s advisers insist the trip —

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