WASHINGTON - President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday decried aggressive acts from North Korea, including its recent failed rocket launch.
Obama said Pyongyang was operating from a position of weakness, not strength, and Noda said the launch undermined diplomacy to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Obama said the United States and Japan, along with other countries in the region, are unified in insisting that North Korea abide by its international responsibilities.
"The old pattern of provocation that then gets attention and somehow insists on the world purchasing good behavior from them, that pattern is broken," Obama said in a news conference with Noda at the White House.
Noda said that given North Korea's past practice, there appears to be a good chance that it would undertake yet another nuclear test. The Japanese prime minister said China remains an important player in trying to restrain North Korea's nuclear program.
Noda was in Washington looking to reaffirm Japan's strong alliance with the United States and to boost his leadership credentials as his popularity flags at home.
Noda, who came to power in September and is Japan's sixth prime minister in six years, faces huge challenges in reviving a long-slumbering economy and helping his nation recover from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
His Oval Office meeting, joint news conference and later, a gala dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, could offer Noda some brief relief from domestic woes. The two sides are determined to show that U.S.-Japan ties are as close as ever, particularly after the assistance from the United States following the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a meltdown at a nuclear plant.
The U.S. alliance with Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is at the core of Obama's expanded engagement in Asia - a diplomatic thrust motivated in part by a desire to counter the growing economic and military clout of strategic rival China.
Days before Noda's visit, the United States and Japan announced an agreement on shifting about 9,000 Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The plan would spread U.S. forces more widely in the Asia-Pacific as part of a rebalancing of U.S. defense priorities after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a move also aimed at easing what Okinawans view as a burdensome U.S. military presence and goes some way to ameliorate an irritant in bilateral relations. But there is still no timetable and the plan faces opposition in Okinawa and in the U.S. Congress.
Noda is the first Japanese leader welcomed to the White House since his Democratic Party of Japan, which had an initially awkward relationship with Washington, came to power in the fall of 2009. The party had at first favored a foreign policy more independent of the United States.
Noda is seen in Washington as capable and practical, and the Obama administration will be hoping he can weather his political problems and stick around longer than his immediate predecessors. His poll numbers have dwindled to below 30 percent as he pushes an unpopular rise in a consumption tax to tackle Japan's national debt and looming social security crisis to cope with the nation's aging population.