“A lot of key issues are on the line” during the two days of talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to Larry Kudlow, assistant to the U.S. president for economic policy.
The discussions Tuesday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort off Florida’s Atlantic coast are expected to focus on North Korea. They turn to trade issues Wednesday.
Trump and Abe – both currently buffeted by domestic scandals — are no strangers. The Japanese prime minister is the foreign leader the U.S. president has met with and spoken to most often during his presidency.
Asked if there’s still a Trump-Abe “bromance,” amid recent reports of frustration expressed by the Japanese leader about Trump, the senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, Matt Pottinger replied, “I’m sure you’ll make your own judgments based on the chemistry” after Abe arrives at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump and Abe share a pressing concern — North Korea, which has ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs in defiance of international sanctions.
With an unprecedented summit being planned between Trump and Kim Jong Un, Abe said this week he is looking to confirm the U.S. stance on applying pressure on North Korea to get it to irreversibly abandon its missiles and nuclear weapons.
Abe is hoping to convince Trump that if there is a meeting with Kim, the U.S. president will not make agreements with the North Korean leader that could weaken the security of Japan, which is under America’s nuclear umbrella and hosts thousands of U.S. military personnel.
“We’re certainly going to be taking into account the full range of threats North Korea poses to regional security,” said Pottinger.
Japanese officials want to avoid having Trump try to link any trade negotiations to security matters, a separation strictly maintained during decades of post-World War II diplomacy between the former enemies. But Trump has frequently stated that military allies, such as Japan and South Korea, should pay more for American forces defending them.
“I don’t think Prime Minister Abe will leave Mar-a-Lago with anything other than a high degree of confidence in the alliance,” predicted Pottinger.
There is disappointment in Japan that despite the close relationship between Trump and Abe, the U.S. government has not exempted Tokyo from tariffs placed on steel and aluminum imports.
“It will be under discussion,” Kudlow told reporters. “It’s a key point on the agenda.”
On a related topic, “the United States would probably like to see a free trade agreement (with Japan) come out at some point,” Kudlow told reporters early Tuesday afternoon just hours before Trump and Abe were to meet.
The economic advisor also said that “there’s nothing at all concrete” yet on the United States returning to what was the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership.
“It will come up in the summit, no question about it,” added Kudlow, in reference to the TPP from which Trump withdrew shortly after becoming president.
Kudlow, a conservative economic commentator who recently joined the Trump administration, also denied any linkage between TPP and China trade issues. But he said a global “trade coalition of the willing needs to be formed as a bulwark against Beijing.
China, added Kudlow, “really needs to play by the rules…or there will be consequences.”