TOKYO — The president is in Japan, but it's Afghanistan that's on his mind.
The first substantive discussion he had here in Tokyo with the new Prime Minister was to thank Japan for its $5 billion pledged for Afghan reconstruction, and for a different pledge of $1 billion in assistance to Pakistan, which the president later said "underscores Japan's prominent role within a broad international coalition that is advancing the cause of stability and opportunity in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
The president told reporters Friday that a "decision will be made soon. It will be one that is fully transparent so that the American people understand exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it and what it will entail."
He said he was "pleased with how the process has proceeded. And those who participated I think would acknowledge that it has been not a academic exercise, but a necessary process in order to make sure that we're making the best possible decisions."
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Friday morning at a joint press availability with President Obama that they had "talked about Afghanistan and our support to Afghanistan,"
Hatoyama said that Japanese "will not be taking part in the refueling" of ships in the Indian Ocean headed to Afghanistan, "but instead providing civil assistance, and we are planning to mainly provide civil assistance of 5 billion yen in five years for agriculture, building of infrastructures, schools. So this is the type of assistance we want to provide. And also to improve security, we want to support the police force in Afghanistan. Furthermore, for the former soldiers, we want to provide vocational training. These are the types of things that we want to conduct."
Added Hatoyama, "We understand that the Afghans are suffering from poverty and we have to save them from poverty. Also security is something of a challenge, and we need to take new activities. And also, to the former soldiers, we have to provide vocational training so that they do not have to rely on their guns; they can lay down their guns and seek a more fulfilling life. And I believe that for Japan it is more appropriate, desirable, that we provide such civilian assistance."
President Obama said he "shared with the Prime Minister our efforts in refining our approach to make it more successful in the coming year."
Asked what was delaying his decision, the president said it was not "a matter of some datum of information that I'm waiting on. It's a matter of making certain that when I send young men and women into war, and I devote billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money, that it's making us safer, and that the strategies that are placed not just on the military side but also on the civilian side are coordinated and effective in our primary goal, which is to make sure that the United States is not subject to attack and its allies are not subject to attack by terrorist networks."
The president said he recognized "that there have been critics of the process. They tend not to be folks who I think are directly involved in what's happening in Afghanistan. Those who are recognize the gravity of the situation and recognize the importance of us getting this right."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said later Friday that Afghanistan is a topic that will come up throughout the trip, with the president trying to get more international assistance and training for Afghanistan. South Korea, too, made a "robust" commitment to Afghanistan leading up to this trip, a senior administration official says, with the South Korean government pledging a provincial reconstruction team in addition to the medical and vocational training team already there.
On his way here, the president pledged to troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage that "we’ll give you the strategy and clear mission you deserve."