Trump, Abe Agree in Phone Call to Meet in Washington Next Month

  • Two leaders avoid detailed discussion after TPP withdrawal
  • Abe seeks to explain contributions by Japanese automakers

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to hold a summit in Washington on Feb. 10 and affirmed the importance of their alliance, Abe told reporters, after the U.S. strained ties by withdrawing from a Pacific trade pact.

The two leaders discussed economic and security issues during a phone call, Abe said. The prime minister explained the contribution made by Japanese automakers to the U.S., Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said in a separate briefing. That reflected Japanese wariness over Trump’s intent after he pledged in his inauguration speech to implement a “Buy American and Hire American” strategy.

The pair discussed “the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance and cooperation on regional and global issues,” the White House said in a readout of the call. “President Trump affirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to ensuring the security of Japan.”

The U.S.-Japan alliance, a bedrock of security in the Pacific region, has come under stress since Trump backed out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership shortly after taking office. Abe, a key advocate of the deal, has signaled he’s open to a bilateral agreement, and said earlier this week he wants a summit to show the two nations’ alliance is “unshakable.”

“When we meet on February 10, I want to have a frank exchange of opinions on the economy and security,” Abe said. “I want to make it a meaningful exchange of opinions.”

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Trump told Republican lawmakers in Philadelphia this week that rather than large multinational pacts, he’d seek bilateral agreements with quick opt-out triggers. Japan is the fourth-biggest U.S. trading partner, and total trade between the two countries was $194 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Believe me, we’re going to have a lot of trade deals,” Trump said. “If that particular country doesn’t treat us fairly, we send them a 30-day termination, notice of termination.”

A bilateral deal could buoy Abe, who invested significant political capital in the TPP agreement. The U.S. and Japan were by far the largest economies among the dozen Pacific Rim nations that negotiated the deal, which would have reduced thousands of tariffs and implemented stricter intellectual property, environmental and worker protections.

Diplomacy Day

The call with Abe began a busy day of diplomacy for Trump, who’s also scheduled to speak with the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Australia. Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after he won the presidency, seeing him at Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 17.

Saturday’s call was the first official chance for Abe to receive reassurance about Japan’s critical security alliance with the U.S. since Trump took office. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly suggested that U.S. allies with strong economies should do more to pay for their own defense, and suggested that it would not be a bad thing if Japan or South Korea were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Tensions in the Pacific are running high amid concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs and Chinese action in the South China Sea. Trump and Abe will “consult and cooperate” on the threat posed by North Korea, the White House said.

Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, plans to visit Japan and South Korea next week on his first international trip.

— With assistance by Emi Nobuhiro, and Nick Wadhams

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