As negotiators struggle, President Barack Obama is rejecting suggestions that an Asia-Pacific trade deal is in danger and says the U.S. and Japan must take bold steps to overcome differences that are threatening completion of the cornerstone of his strategic rebalance to the region.

Illustrating those difficulties, the top Japanese negotiator said Thursday that talks had come to a stop only to have a U.S. official later say that discussions would continue.

Standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama also affirmed that the U.S. will defend its Asian ally in a potential confrontation with China over a set of disputed islands. At the same time, he called on both parties to peacefully resolve the long-running dispute that has heightened tensions between the two countries.

On the first full day of a four-nation visit to Asia, Obama called for the U.S. and Japan to resolve disagreements promptly over access to agriculture and automobile markets, issues that are hindering completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal, involving 12 nations overall, is a key component of Obama’s efforts to assert U.S. influence in Asia in the face of China’s ascendancy in the region.

“Now is the time for bold steps that are needed to reach a comprehensive agreement, and I continue to believe we can get this done,” Obama said at a joint news conference with Abe at the Akasaka Palace. “All of us have to move out of our comfort zones and not just expect that we’re going to get access to somebody else’s market without providing access to our own. And it means that we have to sometimes push our constituencies beyond their current comfort levels because ultimately it’s going to deliver a greater good for all people.”

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