Japan PM to make `historic` US Congress address

 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will bring his message of deepening economic and security ties with Washington when he makes a landmark address to US lawmakers on April 29.

Washington: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will bring his message of deepening economic and security ties with Washington when he makes a landmark address to US lawmakers on April 29.

"Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress and we are proud to host this historic event," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.

"His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities," Boehner said, including "working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade."

Few Japanese politicians have ever addressed Congress and none have done so in a coveted joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Prime minister Nobusuke Kishi -- who notably was Abe`s grandfather and was accused of but never charged with war crimes -- addressed the US House on June 20, 1957.

Prime minister Hayato Ikeda did so almost exactly four years later, according to congressional records.

Abe is to embark on a week-long US tour late next month as the two former enemies prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The address to Congress will crown a visit expected to focus on deepening trade and military ties.

On April 28, President Barack Obama will host Abe for talks and a state dinner, the White House said.

Abe will also tour Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles during the April 26-May 3 trip, according to Tokyo.

After their bitter battles across the Pacific during the war -- Tokyo announced its surrender on August 15, 1945 -- Japan became a loyal US ally, housing bases for American forces and strengthening ties with its former enemy.

The 60-year-old Abe`s visit comes as Washington presses Japan to mend frayed ties with fellow US ally South Korea and with China.Beijing and Seoul will be closely watching what Abe says in a special statement to mark seven decades since the end of the war, during which its Asian neighbors suffered from Japanese militarism.

Last week Seoul urged Abe to use the opportunity to express his "sincere repentance" for wartime atrocities, while China`s foreign ministry merely noted the reports of the US invitation.

Abe`s government has publicly endorsed a 1995 apology for wartime wrongs. 

But South Korea was hoping he addresses Japan`s controversial emphasis on patriotism in schools and making visits to a shrine that honors the war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Seoul believes Tokyo has yet to fully atone for the excesses of its colonial past and the forced recruitment of South Korean women to wartime military brothels.

The friction is an irritant for Washington, which would rather see its two key regional allies bury the hatchet and focus on forming a united front against an increasingly assertive China.

The issue of wartime sex slavery was also behind some US opposition to Abe`s invitation, sources said.

Japan says it has already apologized, offered financial compensation and psychological help to victims.

Diplomatic sources said that Abe`s speech was expected to echo some of the themes from his July address to the Australian parliament, where he expressed humility about the "evils and horrors" of Japan`s history.

The visit comes amid intense negotiations over the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free-trade agreement including Japanese participation, in which Washington and Beijing are jostling for influence.

Abe`s visit is likely to push forward talks on the partnership.

Vice President Joe Biden called Masahiko Komura, vice president of Japan`s Liberal Democratic Party, to discuss Abe`s upcoming visit, and the two agreed that TPP differences, including on automobiles and agriculture, should be resolved "as soon as possible."

But while negotiators hope Obama will have won backing from Congress to seal the deal before Abe`s arrival, congressional sources said the legislative calendar might be too tight for such progress.

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