Trump and Abe show united front on DPRK and division on trade

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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe ahead of a dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on April 18, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

U.S. President Donald Trump started the day on Wednesday playing golf with his guest, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg has more.

The two leaders are both avid fans of the game and have said they’ve enjoyed their past discussions on the green. But Abe leaves Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida estate often dubbed the “Winter White House,” without a hole-in-one. Abe came to the U.S. seeking reassurances. He got them on the DPRK, but fell short of what he had hoped for on trade.

Like much of the rest of the world, Abe did not know ahead of time that Trump had accepted an invitation to meet face-to-face with DPRK leader Kim Jong-un for an historic summit.

During his talks with Abe in Florida, Trump revealed that the U.S. was considering five neutral locations for the summit. He also confirmed – perhaps after accidentally revealing – that his CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, had just returned from a clandestine trip to Pyongyang where he met with Kim. It appeared Abe did not know about that meeting, either. Many in Japan suggested Abe was being left out of the loop, something Abe denied on Wednesday.

Abe and Trump have been unified in their so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the DPRK. Abe warned against letting up on that pressure, in an effort to reward the DPRK for what Japanese has called Pyongyang’s “charm offensive.”

Trump said it was a mistake made by other U.S. administrations, but not one that would be repeated while he was in the White House. Trump said the goal remained to have a complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. President said that without that, he would walk away from the summit with Kim. “If I think it’ s a meeting that’s not fruitful we’re not going to go,” Trump said. “If the meeting is not fruitful while I’m there, I’ll respectfully leave the meeting.”

Trump also promised Abe that he would address the issues of Japanese nationals, abducted by the DPRK in the 1970s and 80s, when he meets with Kim Jong Un in late May or early June. Again, this was a promise the Japanese leader came to Florida wanting to hear. When Trump visited Japan in November, he met with some of the families of the 13 abducted Japanese nationals.

The U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo, who was in Florida for the two-day Trump-Abe summit, also met with some of the families in Japan just a few days ago. Abe said he was touched by the U.S.’s commitment to the issue.

But Abe and Trump remained divided over the issue of trade. Abe has spent significant political capital back home pushing for a 12-nation trade agreement, known as TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It now has 11 countries. Trump pulled out of talks just three days into his presidency. Days before Abe’s visit, he suggested he’d be open to joining, if the conditions were right. Then, he appeared to rule it out again.

Abe has faced criticism in Japan – where his approval ratings have dropped below 30 percent due to a domestic scandal – for not getting Tokyo an exemption to recently introduced U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. Several U.S. allies have received a pass to tariffs introduced by Trump under Section 232 of the 1962 U.S. Trade Expansion Act. Section 232 specifically deals with national security issues, which Trump cited introducing the tariffs.

“Japanese steel and aluminum would not exert any negative influence on the US security,” Abe said in Mar-a-Lago, before joining Trump for dinner. “Rather, it’s our position that the quality of Japanese products is high. Many of those products are difficult to be replaced with and they are greatly contributing to the U.S. industry’s unemployment.”

For his part, Trump tried to leverage the issue of tariffs to push Abe towards a bilateral trade deal.

“If we can come to an arrangement on a new deal between the United States and Japan, that would certainly be something we would discuss — aluminum tariffs and steel tariffs, and I would look forward to being able to at some point in the future take them off,” Trump said in remarks at a closing press conference. “But right now we have a deficit that’s a minimum of $69 billion a year. Japan sends us millions and millions of cars and we tax them virtually not at all. And we don’t send so much product because we have trade barriers ad lots of other things. So these are the things the Prime Minister and I are going to be discussing over the next short period of time.”

The two leaders suggested there was a way forward – to improve both economies. But acknowledge that there was distance in their positions. Abe came hoping for a win. It appears he will go back to Japan with a draw.


Myung-koo Kang on the significance of Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Jong Un

CGTN’s Asieh Namdar spoke with Myung-koo Kang, a professor of political science at Baruch College, about the significance of CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s visit to the DPRK, the upcoming inter-Korean summit, and the expected meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.