At a news conference during which he was harshly lectured by the prime minister of Japan, President Barack Obama extended his "sincerest condolences and deepest regrets" for what he termed a "tragedy" in Okinawa, with a former U.S. Marine suspected in the killing of a young Japanese woman.
"The United States will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation to ensure that justice is done under the Japanese legal system," Obama pledged.
Japanese police say Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former Marine now employed as a civilian contractor at Kadena Air Force Base, confessed to stabbing and strangling a 20-year-old office worker on the island of Okinawa.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from the meeting with Obama and announced live on Japanese television that he raised a formal protest over the death, which he said shocked not only Okinawa but all of Japan.
"I firmly lodged a protest against President Obama as the Japanese Prime Minister with regard to the most recent case in Okinawa," Abe said right off the top. "The entire time for the small group discussion was spent on this specific case in Okinawa. And I feel profound resentment against this self-centered and absolutely despicable crime."
Abe said that Japan will investigate in a "rigorous manner."
"The entire Japan was deeply shocked due to this most recent case," he said. "I conveyed to the President that such feelings of the Japanese people should be taken to heart sincerely." He added that he urged Obama to "take effective and thorough means" to prevent other killings.
Obama emphasized that the United States is "appalled by any violent crime that may have occurred or been carried out by any U.S. personnel or U.S. contractors."
"We consider it inexcusable, and we are committed to doing everything that we can to prevent any crimes from taking place of this sort," Obama stressed. "We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here the same way that we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim’s family back in the United States."
The Japanese have long resented U.S. service members' conduct off military bases, pointing to a number of rapes and other crimes over the years. The public airing of grievances in Japan -- the United States' closest Asian ally -- sets a tense tone for the rest of the trip, which culminates in a historic presidential visit to Hiroshima on Friday. Obama has said he will not apologize for the United States' use of an atomic bomb against the city at the end of World War II.
A White House official said the president expected the Okinawa killing would come up but disputed Abe's assertion that it was the sole focus of the meeting. The official said Obama and Abe also discussed coordination on the G-7 summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday, as well as bilateral and regional issues.