Trump hosts Japan's Abe, gives North, South Korea his 'blessing' to end war

President Donald Trump on Tuesday gave his blessing for North and South Korea to discuss ending their decadeslong war and said that without his help, the two countries “wouldn’t be discussing anything.”

At Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump confirmed that the two Koreas are negotiating an end to hostilities ahead of a meeting between the North’s Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in next week. The meeting will be the third inter-Korean summit since the Koreas’ 1945 division.

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“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” said Trump, who welcomed Abe to his Florida resort on Tuesday.

The White House has said Abe’s visit will give the leaders an opportunity to discuss Trump’s own upcoming summit with Kim, which the president is looking to hold in the next two months. Trump said the U.S. and Japan are “very unified” on the subject of North Korea, though privately Abe is expected to raise Japan’s concerns about the potential summit.

Trump said five locations are under consideration for the summit but offered no further details.

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Trump took credit for the inter-Korean talks, saying, “Without us and without me, in particular, I guess you would have to say, they wouldn’t be discussing anything.”

The Abe summit will also 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 aluminum 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 U.S. allies, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, have been granted exemptions.

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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.”

The official visit began Tuesday afternoon as an honor 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. “It’s an honor to have you in Florida with us,” Trump said.

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.

This time, Abe’s visit comes weeks after Trump took him — and the region — by surprise by announcing he had accepted an invitation to sit down with Kim following months of increasingly heated rhetoric over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Abe will be seeking reassurance from Trump that security threats to Japan won’t be overlooked in the U.S.-North Korea summit, slated for May or early June. The Japanese premier has voiced fears that short- and medium-range missiles that pose a threat to Japan might not be part of the U.S. negotiations.

“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,” Pottinger said.

Japan is also expected to express support for a U.S. return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Trump abandoned upon taking office. Trump opened the possibility of rejoining last week amid a trade dispute with China.

But Kudlow suggested that the U.S. rejoining the pact is far from certain, telling reporters Tuesday that “it’s more of a thought than a policy, that’s for sure.” Kudlow added that Trump does not share the view of many U.S. Pacific allies that the trade agreement can serve as an economic bulwark to contain a rising China. “The president regards them as two different issues,” he said.

Both sides insist that Trump and Abe remain close. U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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