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Obama Ends Asia Tour, Says New START Treaty 'Can Reduce Tensions'

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) greets his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev (right) and British Prime Minister Davis Cameron at the G20 working dinner in Seoul on November 11.
U.S. President Barack Obama has left Japan to return to Washington after a 10-day tour of Asia that also included visits to India, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Obama attended two international economic summits during his tour and met with the leaders of many countries.

But he failed to reach a free-trade accord that he had sought with South Korea on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Seoul. Instead, leaders at the summit reached only a vague agreement that gave little sense of a unified approach to prevent further economic crises.

Meanwhile, in Japan today, Obama attended an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Yokohama near Tokyo, where he met with eight other Asia-Pacific government leaders on a proposal for a wider trade pact called the "Trans-Pacific Partnership."

China, Japan Reluctant To Join

But that group of leaders did not include China -- the world's second-largest economy and biggest exporter. Beijing favors negotiating trade reforms in alternative forums that include only Asian economies and not the United States.

Analysts say China is reluctant to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks because the United States could use it to pressure Beijing on the value of its yuan currency, trade imbalances, and other issues.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a once-obscure free-trade plan, is now being hailed by the White House as "the most advanced pathway" to Asia-Pacific regional economic integration.

Obama is expected to push the initiative forward next year when he hosts an APEC summit in Hawaii.

For now, only four countries have signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand. Five others are in talks to join the group: the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam.

In a statement, the White House said leaders at today's meeting "reiterated their goal of expanding the initial group of countries" in stages to other countries across the region, which represents more than half of global output and more than 40 percent of world trade.

But Japan, the host of this weekend's APEC summit, has deferred a decision on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership by six months amid strong domestic opposition due to concerns that free trade would badly damage the country's highly protected and inefficient farm sector.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan attended the meeting with Obama today as an observer. Kan told the meeting that Japan was determined to open its economy but needed to gather information about the process first.

START Could 'Reduce Tensions'

Obama also met today with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for talks that focused on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

That treaty, which was signed in April but has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, would require both Russia and the United States to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads in their arsenals by about one-third.

"It allows us to restart the NATO-Russia Council and a host of consultations, so that we can reduce tensions and increase cooperation on various security matters in the European theater," Obama said in comments to reporters after the meeting.

Treaty supporters say the agreement's most important element is the creation of a new monitoring regime.

The two leaders also discussed the nuclear standoff with Iran and had, in Obama's words, "no disagreement over how to proceed."

Both Obama and Medvedev praised a close working relationship and friendship.

compiled from agency reports