Trump to host Abe as nukes, tar­iffs linger

Tensions strained even among al­lies

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

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.

AP

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Mr Trump at the White House in this 2017 file photo.

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