Trump to host Abe as nukes, tariffs linger
Tensions strained even among allies
WEST PALM BEACH: US President Donald Trump will play host to Japan’s Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago this week amid growing strain between the two countries over the president’s planned meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his push for new tariffs.
The visit will be an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss Mr Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea, which Japan eyes warily. It will also serve as a test of whether the fond personal relationship the two leaders have forged on the golf course and over meetings and phone calls has chilled over Mr Trump’s recent moves.
House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday of Mr Abe’s visit. “Obviously, the president has got a great relationship there, and it’s going to be centered primarily on preparation for talks with North Korea [and trade].’’
The official visit started yesterday afternoon with a one-on-one meeting followed by a small group discussion with top national security officials focused on the Kim summit. In the evening, the president and first lady Melania Trump had dinner with the Japanese prime minister and his wife.
Today, the topic will broaden to other issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region, including trade and energy. Mr Trump and Mr Abe will also hold a joint press conference before the president and first lady host the Japanese delegations for dinner. Abe will return to Japan tomorrow morning.
It was unclear whether some gold would be played. The pair played together during Mr Abe’s last trip to Florida a year ago as well as Mr Trump’s maiden trip to Japan late last year.
When Mr Trump hosted Mr Abe at his private Mar-a-Lago club just weeks after the US president’s inauguration, North Korea launched its first missile test since the start of the Trump administration, prompting a joint statement denouncing the launch.
This time, Mr Abe’s visit comes weeks after Mr Trump took him, and the region, by surprise when he announced he had accepted an invitation to sit down with Mr Kim following months of increasingly heated rhetoric over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Among the major powers in Northeast Asia, Japan has been left out of the recent flurry of diplomacy with North Korea. Abe will be seeking reassurance from Mr Trump that security threats to Japan won’t be overlooked in the U.S.-North Korea summit, slated for May or early June.
Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump’s pick for secretary of state, said the goal of the summit is to get North Korea to “step away from its efforts to hold America at risk with nuclear weapons”.
Abe has voiced fears that short- and medium-range missiles that pose a threat to Japan might not be part of the US negotiations and has said he worries Mr Trump may “end up accepting North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.’’
James Schoff, a former Pentagon adviser on East Asia policy, said “Abe will want to know what Mr Trump is trying to get out of the meeting, and what he is willing to offer,’’ Mr Schoff said.
“Abe will want to reinforce the idea that maximum pressure must continue until we get complete denuclearization.’’
Mr Abe is also expected to push for exemptions on new US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that have been granted to several key US allies.
Takehiro Shimada, a spokesman for the Embassy of Japan, said the country could not accept Mr Trump’s decision on the tariff case and would be pushing him to reconsider.
“That’s what we really wanted to ask the America side is, `Why?’” he said.
Japan could also express support for a US return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Mr Trump promptly abandoned after taking office. However, he opened the possibility of rejoining last week amid a trade dispute with China.
Both sides insist Mr Trump and Mr Abe remain close. US officials stressed that Mr Trump has met with Mr Abe more than any other world leader and say they’ve been in “constant contact” since Mr Trump accepted Mr Kim’s invitation.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Mr Trump at the White House in this 2017 file photo.