Trump-Abe summit: US could bail on meeting with North Korea’s Kim while Japan fails to avoid tariffs
The two leaders, who have formed a ‘bromance’ in their short relationship, were aligned on maintaining pressure on the North but disagreed on trade
President Donald Trump pledged to go through with a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un but said he could still pull out if he feels it’s “not going to be fruitful”.
Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, amid stormy negotiations on US-Japan trade where both expressed opposition to China’s steel overproduction and alleged intellectual property theft, Trump said CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim had “got along really well” in a recent secret meeting.
He declared “we’ve never been in a position like this” to address worldwide concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons, but he may still pull the plug on the meeting between the long-time adversaries.
“If I think that if it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful we’re not going to go. If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful I will respectfully leave the meeting,” Trump said, adding that a US-led “maximum pressure” campaign of tough economic sanctions on North Korea would continue.
“Just because North Korea is responding to dialogue, there should be no reward. Maximum pressure should be maintained.”
Trump has said a US-North Korea summit could take place by early June, but a venue is yet to be announced. It would be the first such summit between the two nations since the 1950s Korean war.
His comments came as South Korean President Moon Jae-in – who has a summit with Kim planned for April 27 – expressed hope for a peace treaty if the North agrees to denuclearisation.
“The armistice that has dragged on for 65 years must come to an end,” Moon said. “The signing of a peace treaty must be pursued after an end to the war is declared.”
Other than the threat posed to by North Korea’s weapons, another issue overhanging the US-North Korea summit is the fate of three Americans detained there, which spy chief Pompeo allegedly raised during his meeting with Kim two weeks ago. Trump said the issue was under negotiation and there was a “good chance” of winning their release.
Trump also said he promised Abe he would work hard for the return of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. Tokyo says at least a dozen Japanese who were taken in the 1970s and 1980s remain unaccounted for.
The Japanese PM echoed Trump’s sentiment towards the summit with Kim during Wednesday’s joint press conference – another display of the pair’s ongoing “bromance”. But although they were united on the North Korea front, there were also disagreements as Trump spurned his guest’s top economic and trade priorities.
Principal among them: persuading Trump to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and allowing Japan an exemption from new US steel and aluminium tariffs. Japan is the only major US ally not exempt from the tariffs.
Abe is pro-free trade and cheerleader of the TPP, while as part of Trump’s “America First” protectionist agenda, Washington has threatened to leave or force renegotiations on any existing multilateral trade pacts it deems unfair to US interests.
When pressed on the economic differences at the press conference, Abe consulted notes, sidestepped questions and returned to Trump’s favoured call for developing a “reciprocal” trade relationship.
And before leaving the briefing for the working lunch on economic issues, Trump said: “I love the world of finance and the world of economics, and probably, it’s where I do the best. But we will be able to work things out.”
Except they didn’t. The session quickly turned tense, according to two US officials, as the leaders found themselves at an impasse on the tariffs and Trump refused to budge on his opposition to the TPP. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
But also on the agenda during the US-Japan summit was China’s steel overproduction and alleged intellectual property theft, according to Washington’s envoy in Tokyo, which the two saw eye-to-eye on.
Joint concerns about these issues showed the strengthening “alignment” between Trump and Abe, ambassador William Hagerty said. “I think the role of China is on everyone’s minds … the world is aware of the significant overcapacity in the steel industry that has created significant problems in the United States and in other countries,” Hagerty said.
He said the two leaders also had common interests regarding the Trump administration’s use of Section 301 of the 1974 US Trade Act to investigate China for systematically stealing intellectual property – charges Beijing strenuously denies.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Bhavan Jaipragas