The U.S. and Japan “are locked and we are very unified on the subject of North Korea,” President Donald Trump declared Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, as he began two days of meetings — and possibly some golf — with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, landed at Palm Beach International Airport at about 1:20 p.m. amid some questions about whether the U.S. and Japan are on the same page in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Trump and Abe are expected to focus on North Korea ahead of a planned meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump said five sites are being considered for his talks with Kim. Trump also revealed that the U.S. has “started talking with North Korea directly. We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea. I really believe there’s a lot of good will.”
The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that CIA director Mike Pompeo made a secret meeting to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet with Kim.
Trump also credited his “maximum pressure” stance on North Korea with spurring peace talks between the communist nation and South Korea. The nations have officially been at war since 1950, but in a truce since 1953.
“South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war, and they have my blessing on that,” Trump said. “They’ve been very generous that without us and without me in particular, I guess you would have to say, they wouldn’t have had anything, including the Olympics.”
Abe, wearing a striped necktie similar to Trump’s, reinforced that view during a second afternoon photo opportunity with the two leaders in Mar-a-Lago’s White and Gold Ballroom.
“Since the PyeongChang Winter Olympic games in South Korea we have observed major change in terms of North Korea’s behavior and the background of this change is Donald’s unwavering conviction as well as the determination that you demonstrated in addressing the issue of North Korea. So your stance made it possible to achieve this major change,” Abe said through a translator.
Because of Japan’s proximity to North Korea, it faces threats from different types of missiles than the U.S. does. Trump’s willingness to talk to Kim has led to concerns that the U.S. might reach an accord that does not address Japanese interests.
But Matthew Pottinger, the senior Asia director at the National Security Council, said that won’t be the case.
Trump and Abe have “conferred extremely closely” on the North Korea summit “to make sure that Japanese interests and American interests are both fully accounted for,” Pottinger told reporters at a Tuesday briefing in West Palm Beach shortly before Abe’s arrival.
“Japanese security interests are American security interests,” Pottinger said. “That’s why we’re allies.”
Abe visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago in February 2017, and Trump visited Abe in Japan in November. They played golf both times.
“We’re going to sneak out tomorrow morning and play a round of golf, if possible and if we have the time,” Trump said Tuesday.
Aside from North Korea, Abe and Trump are expected to discuss trade.
Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said at the West Palm Beach briefing that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Abe asks Trump to exempt Japan from recently announced steel tariffs. Kudlow wouldn’t venture a prediction on the U.S. response.
Japan has taken a lead role in trade negotiations in the region and is among 12 nations that originally signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 2016 agreement that former president Barack Obama signed onto. Trump, who railed against the TPP during his 2016 campaign, pulled the U.S. out of the pact three days after his inauguration.
At the time, Abe said the TPP without the U.S. was “meaningless.”
The 11 remaining nations — led by Japan — signed a slimmed-down version of the deal last month in Chile. Still, Trump’s escalating trade war with China has spooked U.S. allies and markets in Europe and Japan.
Kudlow said discussions about re-joining TPP are in the “pre-preliminary stages.”
“We will have to be convinced that it is worth it,” Kudlow said.
Kudlow said U.S. trade disputes with China “stand alone from TPP” and that a global coalition supports the administration’s get-tough trade strategy with Beijing.
The adminstration has imposed tariffs on solar panels, washing machines and aluminum and steel. Last month, Trump targeted Beijing specifically, with a threat on March 22 to impose sanctions on $50 billion of Chinese imports. Both sides began lobbing tariffs — and threats of more tariffs.
On Monday, the United States banned U.S. firms from selling parts to a Chinese phone maker for seven years. On Tuesday, China imposed a temporary 179 percent tariff on American sorghum, a grain to used to feed livestock and make liquor.
“China is a first-world economy behaving like a third-world economy. And with respect to technology and other matters, they have to start playing by the rules,” Kudlow said. “The president emphatically, emphatically, supports that view. That is the essence of his policy: Play by the rules or there will be consequences.”
This week’s stay at Mar-a-Lago, a private club owned by the president, is Trump’s 17th since he took office. The Mar-a-Lago visits have included the 2017 talks with Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach,” Trump said Tuesday. “They like it. I like it.”