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United States

Donald Trump says US has had ‘extremely high-level’ talks with North Korea, praises Chinese diplomacy

Trump boasted of the contacts and took credit for both the Olympics and meetings between South and North Korea during a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2018, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 7:36am

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that his administration has conducted direct talks with North Korea at “extremely high levels” and praised China for helping to put pressure on Pyongyang.

“There’s a great chance to solve a world problem,” Trump said. “This is not a problem for the United States. This is not a problem for Japan or any other country. This is a problem for the world.”

In his remarks, made during a two-day meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the president said that the two sides are considering five locations for a meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, none of which are in the US.

Trump also said Chinese President Xi Jinping had “been incredibly generous” in helping enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

“They’ve never been this way with the United States,” he said. “They have more respect for us and our leadership. President Xi has been very strong on the [North Korean] border, much stronger than anyone thought they would be.”

The US leader also said he had given the South Korean government his “blessing” to negotiate a peace deal with North Korea, ending the war that began in 1950 and has continued despite the signing of an armistice in 1953.

North Korea has long sought a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean war; it is unusual for the North to seek to broach the issue directly with South Korea rather than with Washington itself. 

The US has traditionally sought to resolve the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme before addressing the North’s demands for a peace treaty, which the isolated, authoritarian nation views as a means to ensuring its security. The leaders of North and South Korea are to meet on April 27 in the demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.

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Trump added that the South Korean government has “been very generous that without us, and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure”.

“As you know North Korea participated in the Olympics and it was really quite an Olympics,” he said. “It was quite a success. That would not have happened.”

Abe also praised Trump for agreeing to meet Kim.

“I’d like to commend Donald’s courage in his decision to have the upcoming summit meeting with the North Korean leader,” said the Japanese Prime Minister, who has voiced fears that short- and medium-range missiles that pose a threat to Japan might not be part of the US negotiations. 

The Abe summit will 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 following Trump’s recent moves, including his decision not to exempt Japan from new steel and aluminium tariffs. 

White House officials suggested that Trump was open to acceding to Abe’s hopes to obtain a waiver to the protectionist measure, which went into effect last month. Most other key US allies, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, have been granted exemptions. 

Issuing Japan the waiver to the Trump-ordered sanctions or opening negotiations on a new trade agreement with Japan are “all on the table”, Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said Tuesday. “That’s why this is such an important meeting.” 

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The official visit began on Tuesday afternoon as an honour 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 planned one-on-one meeting. It will be followed by a small group discussion with top national security officials focused on the Kim summit. The president and first lady Melania Trump will also have dinner with Abe and his wife. 

Trump welcomed the two days of meetings at his Mar-a-Lago club, saying: “It’s an honour to have you in Florida with us.”

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 will return to Japan on Thursday morning. 

The first time Trump hosted Abe at Mar-a-Lago shortly after the inauguration, North Korea conducted its first missile test of Trump’s administration, and the two delivered a joint statement denouncing the launch. 

Abe will be seeking reassurance from Trump that security threats to Japan won’t be overlooked in the US-North Korea summit. 

Abe told Japan’s parliament last week that he would ask Trump to seek elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan. Only getting rid of intercontinental ballistic missiles “has no meaning for Japan,” Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

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In response, the White House made clear Trump is concerned about the security of US allies in addition to the American people.

“I don’t think that Prime Minister Abe will leave Mar-a-Lago with anything other than a high degree of confidence in the health of the alliance, including as we go into the summit with the North Koreans,” said Matthew Pottinger, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs. 

Tokyo is equally eager to avoid being pushed into talks on a two-way free trade agreement aimed not only at market access but at monetary and currency policies.

The two possible options have set the stage for a stand-off between the world’s largest and third-largest economies on the eve of a summit between the countries’ leaders.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tempered expectations about the United States possibly re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), something Trump has indicated he would be willing to do if the deal was changed.

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“Japan is obviously one of the big participants and we’re focused on our trade relationship with them – that’s a big part of the TPP right now,” Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CBS that the United States would like Japan to open up some markets, especially in agriculture. 

Both sides insist that Trump and Abe remain close. US officials stressed that Trump has met with Abe more than any other world leader and say they’ve been in “constant contact” since Trump accepted Kim’s invitation. 

Abe is also expected to push the issue of Japanese abductees, one of his top policy priorities. 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. 

Shimada said Abe would make the case to Trump that releasing the abductees could help North Korea prove they can be trusted to negotiate in good faith. 

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.

Additional reporting by Reuters.