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Obama Urges China and Japan to Resolve Island Spat

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he wants a spat between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea resolved peacefully.
A group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.
A group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.Kyodo via Reuters, file

President Barack Obama on Thursday called on China and Japan to resolve their long-simmering dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

At the news conference in Tokyo at the start of a week-long tour of Asia, Obama pledged that America's mutual security treaty with Japan applies to the islands under dispute.

"Historically, they have been administered by Japan, and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally," Obama said at the news conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "What is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan."

China and Japan have conflicting claims to the remote islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. The conflict has severely damaged relations between the two Asian powers.

President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold joint news conference.NBC News

A U.S.-Japan defense treaty requires America to rush to Japan's aid if it is attacked. Obama told reporters Thursday his defense of that treaty is not by no means a new position.

"The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth, so obviously this isn't the 'red line' that I'm drawing," Obama said.

Obama said he wants the maritime squabble resolved "through dialogue." He called on the two nations to "keep the rhetoric low."

The president characterized the U.S.-Japan alliance as "the foundation not only for our security in the Asia Pacific region but also for the region as a whole."

Obama kicked off the news conference with a moment of levity, thanking Abe for his "kind words and warm welcome" as well as the "outstanding sushi and sake." The two leaders dined together Wednesday at acclaimed Tokyo restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro.

— Daniel Arkin with The Associated Press