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In Japan, Trump pushes new trade deal, mourns Texas shooting

U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaks to members of the media before having a dinner at Ginza Ukai Tei restaurant, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump is on a five-country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP)

President Donald Trump began his second day in Japan by pushing for stronger, more equitable economic ties between the allies, yet his message in Asia was threatened to be overshadowed by a tragic shooting back home.

Trump on Monday called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief, "Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong."

He then shifted back to his message to a group of American and Japanese business leaders: the United States was open for business, but he wanted to reshape the nations' trade relationship.

"For the last many decades, Japan has been winning" the trade relationship, Trump said. "The U.S. has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan for many years."

He rebuked the current relationship, saying the trade deals were "not fair and not open." Trump downplayed the potentially contentious nature of the negotiations, though the Japanese government has not shown much appetite for striking a new bilateral trade agreement. Tokyo had pushed to preserve the Trans- Pacific Partnership, which Trump has abandoned.

"We'll have to negotiate that out and it'll be a very friendly negotiation," Trump said, suggesting it would be done "quickly" and "easily."

Later Monday, Trump will highlight the specter of North Korea and try to put a human face on its menace, hearing from anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang's agents. The meeting, the White House hopes, will elevate these heart-wrenching tales of loss to the international stage as he hopes to pressure North Korea to end its provocative behavior toward American allies in the region.

North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims all those captives have died or been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists nearly 50 people were taken ā€” and believes some may be alive.

Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of the renegade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, belittling him as "Little Rocket Man" and threatening to rain "fire and fury" on his country if the belligerence continues. But Trump also has begun highlighting the plight of the North Koreans.

"I think they're great people. They're industrious. They're warm, much warmer than the world really knows or understands," Trump told reporters on Air Force One while flying to Japan on Sunday. "And I hope it all works out for everybody."

Also on the agenda during Trump's second day in Asia: an audience with Emperor Akihito, a sit-down with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a state dinner.

North Korea is the critical issue looming over Trump's 12-day, five-country trip that will include direct talks with Trump's Chinese and Russian counterparts.

In Washington, a new analysis emerged from the Pentagon saying that a ground invasion of North Korea is the only way to locate and destroy, with complete certainty, all components of Kim's nuclear weapons program.

"It is the most bleak assessment," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Two members of the U.S. Congress, in a letter to the Pentagon, had asked about casualty assessments in a possible conflict with North Korea. A rear admiral on the Joint Staff responded on behalf of the Defense Department, and said the amount of casualties would differ depending on the advance warning and the ability of U.S. and South Korea forces to counter North Korean attacks.

Feinstein said she was pleased that America's top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, was on the Asia trip. "I think if he will stay the course and use diplomacy the way diplomacy can be used, that it might be possible to work something out. The worst alternative is a war, which could become nuclear," she said.

Abe welcomed Trump on Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that will now give way to high-stakes diplomacy. The two leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, shared a casual lunch and played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, joined by professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama.

Abe was one of the first world leaders to court President-elect Trump. The prime minister was the first to call after the 2016 election, and rushed to New York days later to meet Trump and present him with a pricey, gold Honma golf driver.

The two men also met on the sidelines of an international summit in Italy this spring and Trump hosted Abe in Florida. White House officials said Trump has spoken with Abe by phone more than any world leader, aside from British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other," Trump said before dinner with Abe, who for this meal did show Trump traditional cuisine with a teppanyaki dinner. "And I don't think we've ever been closer to Japan than we are right now."

And while there is worry in the region about Trump's unpredictable response to the threat posed by Kim, Trump made clear he did not intend to tone down his bellicose rhetoric even while in an Asian capital within reach of the North Korea dictator's missiles.

"There's been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach," he said, speaking to reporters on Air Force One.

The easy rapport with Japan could be strained if Trump takes an aggressive approach on trade or Trump and Abe disagree on how best to approach North Korea.

During his campaign, Trump suggested Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons to defend itself, hinted the U.S. might not come to the nation's defense, and accused Japan of "killing us" on trade. He has dropped that antagonist language almost entirely since the election, but tensions remain.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj

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