Tokyo (CNN) – Pressed on whether he would use military force to defend an obscure set of islands controlled by Japan, President Barack Obama offered a robust and sometimes testy defense of his foreign policy as it applies to Ukraine and Syria.
At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, the President said the U.S. security pact with Japan does extend to the Senkaku islands that are at the heart of a heated dispute with China.
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But Obama insisted his implicit offer to defend the islands, which Japan calls Senkaku and China calls Diaoyu, against a Chinese incursion did not amount to drawing a new red line around the contested land.
"The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth, so this isn't a red line that I'm drawing," Obama said. "There's no shift in position, no red line. We’re simply applying the treaty."
In his second term, President Obama has had limited success in issuing ultimatums in the hopes of halting aggression from nations like Russia and Syria.
But the President seized on the line of questioning over the islands to defend his handling of both the crisis in Ukraine and Syria's bloody civil war.
Warning that a new round of sanctions against Russia is "teed up," the President said he doubts Moscow will honor its commitment made last week in Geneva to deescalate tensions in Eastern Ukraine.
"Do I think they are going to do that? So far, the evidence doesn't make me hopeful," Obama said at the news conference, acknowledging Russia has yet to reverse course in the face of mounting economic pressure.
But on Syria, the President said his policy of diplomacy first had a direct effect on the removal of 87% of that country's chemical weapon stockpiles.
"The fact that we didn’t have to fire a missile to get that accomplished is not a failure to uphold those international norms; it’s a success," Obama said.
Asked whether he was confident in Obama's assurances on Japan's security, Prime Minister Abe pointed to the Obama’s leadership in rallying the G-7 economic powers to apply sanctions on Russia.
"We want to make this a peaceful region which values laws, and in doing this, strengthening of our bilateral alliance is extremely important. On this point, I fully trust President Obama,” Abe said at the news conference.
Beyond memories of the pageantry that comes with the first state visit by a U.S. President to Japan in nearly two decades, Obama has few tangible "deliverables" to take home from this week-long trip aimed at pivoting his foreign policy toward Asia.
At a state dinner with Japan's emperor Thursday night, Obama toasted the strides made by both nations in the decades since World War II.
"We have strengthened our alliance for today," Obama said at the state dinner.
But earlier Thursday, Emperor Akihito noted the mounting pressures that have weighed on Obama since their last visit.
The emperor pointed to how much Obama's hair had grayed since their last visit.
"You have a very hard job," he told Obama.
The President's Asia pivot tour only gets tougher as he heads to South Korea, which is still reeling from a devastating ferry accident and renewed fears of a new nuclear test in North Korea.