WASHINGTON --Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first Washington meeting with President Bush was supposed to be a low-key affair designed to highlight the tight relationship between the United States and its Asian ally.
But their sessions today and tomorrow will be a gathering of a president weakened by the war in Iraq and a prime minister hurt by a series of missteps, including his remarks about "comfort women" forced into sexual servitude for Japan's military during World War II.
"It has put a poor spin on the trip," said Bruce Klinger, an Asia analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.
The leaders plan to discuss the world economy, the war in Iraq and their tense relationships with North Korea, but an issue dating back six decades is likely to affect the atmosphere.
Abe, the first Japanese prime minister born after World War II, has struggled since succeeding Junichiro Koizumi in September. His approval ratings have fallen from 70 percent to 40 percent. Abe reopened old wounds in Asia when he said last month that there was "no evidence to prove" that the Japanese government had any role in coercing women to work as "comfort women" in military brothels.
About 200,000 girls and women were abused as "comfort women," according to Amnesty International, which is co-sponsoring a silent protest today across the street from the White House.