Trump welcomes Abe, gives 'blessing' to Korean peace talks
Apr 20, 2018, 00:53
Demonstrators hold up signs reading "Liar" during a protest against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside the National Diet building in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday.
With a historic summit between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, less than two weeks away - followed by a possible summit between Kim and Donald Trump - Japan has found itself left out in the diplomatic cold.
The latest signs of trouble for Abe come ahead of his summit this week with US President Donald Trump, where the hard topics of North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and touchy trade matters will be on the agenda. Trump's sudden acceptance of a meeting with the North Korean leader threw Tokyo aback-there had been no prior consultation among the allies on this important development, which risked exposing the special relationship between the two leaders as hollow.
"They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war", said Trump, who welcomed Abe to his Florida resort on Tuesday.
Trump said five locations for the summit are under consideration, but he wouldn't list them. The president would not disclose the sites but said the USA was not among them.
Abe will attempt to use the personal rapport he has established with the USA president over the past 18 months to remind Trump that any deal over North Korea's nuclear program must take into account Tokyo's concerns about the missile threat from Pyongyang.
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The Trump-Abe summit has played out amid growing tensions between the two countries over North Korea and trade. Ballistic missile defenses will need improving, and even then, it would be hard to claim that Japan is fully protected from North Korea's missiles.
Abe, who has voiced fears that short- and medium-range missiles that pose a threat to Japan might not be part of the US negotiations, praised Trump on Tuesday for his bravery in agreeing to meet with the North Korean dictator.
"I'd like to commend Donald's courage in his decision to have the upcoming summit meeting with the North Korean leader", said Abe, who has voiced fears that short- and medium-range missiles that pose a threat to Japan might not be part of the US negotiations.
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". While the United States focuses on denuclearization, Japan must also consider the missile threat emanating from North Korea.
Japan has been "unhappily" sidelined and caught by surprise particularly over the North Korea talks, according to Jeffrey Kingston, Temple University of Japan's Director of Asian Studies.
The U.S. has traditionally sought to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program before addressing the North's demands for a peace treaty, which the isolated, authoritarian nation views as a means to ensuring its security.
Throughout Kim's push to develop a credible threat to the United States beyond its Pacific outposts and USA troops based in Japan and South Korea, Abe has faithfully stuck to the White House line on Pyongyang's nuclear program: that unconditional talks are pointless, and that economic pressure must be backed by the threat of military action. The leaders of the two Koreas are due to meet April 27 on the southern side of the tense, demilitarized zone that separates them.
Another potential risk for Abe is that in Trump will agree to broach Japan's concerns with Kim, but only in return for concessions on trade.
Mr Abe also will likely seek a reversal of the decision not to exclude Japan from new steel and aluminium tariffs, while resisting Mr Trump's attempts to pull Japan into bilateral trade negotiations.
The first time Trump hosted Abe at Mar-a-Lago, North Korea conducted its first missile test of Trump's administration, and the two delivered a joint statement denouncing the launch.
Abe's domestic political troubles come at a sensitive time for Japan given ongoing diplomacy surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
Mr Abe weathered both scandals a year ago, but the discovery of new evidence has reignited the charges. In March, Japan was conspicuously not given an exemption from the United States' Section 232 sanctions on steel and aluminum, unlike other close partners, such as Canada, Mexico, and South Korea.
Abe secured a commitment from Trump on Tuesday to raise with Kim the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. North Korea says eight others died and denies the remaining four entered its territory.
In February, Vice President Mike Pence visited Tokyo on his way to the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, but he did not hold consultations with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, his counterpart in the U.S. -Japan Economic Dialogue.
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