Seeking to reassure Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of their close alliance ahead of planned talks with North Korea, the Trump administration has signaled it is open to considering exempting Japan from new steel and aluminum tariffs that Abe opposes.
Hosting Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Trump said the tariffs could be a topic during the visit, which comes as Trump prepares for an historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Trump also gave Abe a win on Tuesday, pledging to raise the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, a top Japanese priority, in his meeting with Kim.
But Trump later suggested there was one area where he and Abe would have to agree to disagree: the Trans-Pacific trade partnership, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of days after his inauguration, but has recently said he might be open to re-joining.
“While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States,” Trump tweeted, following a dinner with Abe and their wives. “Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers.”
The two-day Trump-Abe summit played out amid growing tensions between the two countries over North Korea and trade. Japan has warned that Kim may simply be trying to buy time and has raised concerns that the U.S. might not press Kim to abandon his short- and medium-range missiles, which pose an immediate threat to Japan, as they discuss the country’s nuclear weapons program.
Japan has also been questioning why it wasn’t granted exemptions to Trump’s protectionist measures on steel and aluminum when most other key U.S. allies — among them Australia, Canada, the European Union and Mexico — have been.
But Abe spent much of Tuesday praising Trump’s courage for agreeing to meet and suggested the two had already come to terms on several contentions issues.
Speaking through a translator during one of their meetings, Abe said he and Trump had had “very in-depth discussions” on both North Korea and economic issues and said that “on those two points” they had “successfully forged a mutual understanding.”
The two did not reveal what those agreements were, but Abe had been expected to urge to Trump to exempt Japan from the tariffs and press him on the missile issue.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, had said earlier Tuesday that issuing Japan the waiver was “on the table,” but he declined to say what Trump would ask for in return.
The talks came amid news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had recently traveled in secret to North Korea to meet with Kim ahead of a U.S.-North Korea summit planned in the next two months. Two officials confirmed the trip to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The officials were not authorized to discuss the visit publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the first news report about the meeting, The Washington Post said it had taken place two weeks ago, shortly after the CIA chief was nominated to become secretary of state.
Trump had revealed earlier Tuesday that the U.S. and North Korea had been holding direct talks at “extremely high levels” in preparation for the summit. Trump also confirmed that North and South Korea are negotiating an end to hostilities before next week’s meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The meeting will be the third inter-Korean summit since the Koreas’ 1945 division.
“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” Trump said.
Trump said five locations for the summit are under consideration.
Trump took credit for the inter-Korean talks, saying, “Without us and without me, in particular, I guess you would have to say, they wouldn’t be discussing anything.”
Abe’s official visit began Tuesday afternoon as an honor cordon of uniformed service members lined the palm-fringed drive to the club. Trump greeted Abe at the red-carpeted door of the mansion as the pair posed for photos ahead of a one-on-one meeting and a group discussion with national security officials about the Kim summit. The president and first lady Melania Trump later hosted Abe and his wife for an al fresco dinner on the Mar-a-Lago patio.
On Wednesday, the agenda will broaden to include other issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region, including trade and energy, and Trump said he and Abe would “sneak out” to play a round of golf. Trump and Abe will also hold a news conference before the president and first lady host the Japanese delegations for dinner.
Abe said that Trump had promised to bring up the Japanese abductee issue in his meeting with Kim. “I am very grateful for your commitment,” he told Trump.
Pyongyang has acknowledging abducting 13 Japanese, while Tokyo maintains North Korea abducted 17. Five have been returned to Japan. North Korea says eight others died and denies the remaining four entered its territory. Japan has demanded further investigation.
The US itself is pushing for the release of three Americans.
After five years in office, Abe is one of Japan’s longest-serving, post-World War II prime ministers but has suffered plummeting poll ratings over allegations that a school linked to his wife received preferential government treatment in a land sale.