Hillary to visit quake-hit Japan: Report

Hillary Clinton assures that US will be with Japan "every step of the way".

Last Updated: Apr 07, 2011, 12:13 PM IST

Tokyo: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Japan this month in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing, a report said on Thursday.

Hillary will meet Japanese leaders and reaffirm Washington`s support for the country`s efforts to avert a nuclear disaster after the failure of cooling systems at a crippled power plant, Jiji Press said, citing unnamed sources.

She will travel to Japan after attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin on April 14 and 15, it said.

The United States stations around 47,000 troops in Japan, a close US ally which lies near the tense Taiwan Strait and Korean peninsula.

It mobilised around a dozen ships to bring in relief after the March 11 disaster and has 15,000 troops engaged in round-the-clock relief operations since the quake as part of a mission dubbed Operation Tomodachi, or "friend".

Last week, the US military said it was also deploying a Marine unit specialising in emergency nuclear response to Japan to help address the crisis at the quake-damaged Fukishima Daiichi plant.

The plant has been hit by several explosions, triggering fears of a catastrophic meltdown, while radiation has seeped into the air and the Pacific Ocean.

Hillary, who would become only the second senior foreign leader after French President Nicolas Sarkozy to visit Japan since the 9.0-magnitude quake, has assured the country that Washington "will be with you every step of the way" in the aftermath of the disaster.

"We will be with Japan and the people of Japan as you recover and rebuild, and we will stand with you in the months and years ahead," she said in a recent interview with Fuji TV.

Last week, Washington said it was deploying 155 Marines trained in identifying chemical agents, decontamination and monitoring radiation levels to assist the Japanese authorities.

Hillary`s planned visit will include her first meeting with Japan`s new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who was named to his post just two days before the quake.

Relations between Tokyo and Washington have been strained since the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September 2009 pledging a more-equal relationship with the country`s long-term security ally.

Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama lost his job after backing down on an election promise to review a pact on the relocation of a US base on Okinawa island and saying the base may be moved off the southern island altogether.

After dithering for months, Hatoyama was forced into a humiliating retreat, having done little more than anger Washington and raise hopes in Okinawa, the reluctant host to around half the US service personnel in Japan.

His successor, Naoto Kan, has said he will honour the original agreement but still faces stern opposition on Okinawa, at a time when low poll ratings and a split Parliament threaten his own political survival.

Bureau Report