PALM BEACH, Fla.
(AP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe courted the new American president
with a golden driver not long after Donald Trump won the White House. He’s
met with the billionaire businessman more than any other world leader, and
he is Trump’s second-most frequent caller.
Yet the “bromance”
between Trump and Abe has its limits.
Trump appeared to
be successful Tuesday in reassuring Abe that he would take Japan’s concerns
to heart during his upcoming meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But
Wednesday brought public disagreements, as Trump spurned his guest’s top
economic and trade priorities. Principal among them: allowing Japan an
exemption from new U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs and persuading Trump to
re-join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
During a roughly
40-minute joint news conference Wednesday evening, Abe tried to put on a
good face, emphasizing their close relationship and their areas of accord on
North Korea policy. He effusively thanked Trump for pledging to raise the
issue of Japanese abductees held by North Korea in his meeting with Kim.
But when pressed on
the economic disagreements, Abe repeatedly consulted notes as he tried to
sidestep questions on the contentious issues, instead returning to Trump’s
favored call for developing a “reciprocal” trade relationship with the U.S.
It marked a stark departure from Abe’s pre-summit hopes of coaxing the U.S.
back into the TPP. And Japan remains the only major U.S. ally not to be
exempted from the tariffs announced last month.
World leaders have
quickly learned that flattery is an easy way into Trump’s graces, and
throughout the two-day summit, Abe appeared keen to praise the president at
every opportunity. He applauded Trump’s courage for agreeing to meet with
Kim and marveled at Mar-a-Lago, calling Trump’s estate “a gorgeous place.”
Abe drew laughs
before a dinner with the joint delegations in a baroque dining room when he
recounted the strength of their relationship over food, which included a
cheeseburger on the golf course and a working luncheon Wednesday. “We
already had two lunches in the same day,” he said. “And now we are going to
have our dinner.”
“Prime Minister Abe
and I have spent a lot of time today, and we really spent a lot of time
since I got elected. And right from the beginning we hit it off. The
relationship is a very good one,” Trump said as the pair sat down for the
working lunch on economic issues.
That was the
session Trump suggested he was most looking forward to. “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,” he said.
Except it didn’t
turn out that way. The session on trade and economic issues quickly turned
tense and tough, according to two U.S. officials, as the leaders found
themselves at an impasse on the tariffs. And Trump refused to budge on his
opposition to the TPP, from which he withdrew the U.S. last year. The
officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
officials said publicly the personal connection between the leaders is
robust enough to withstand the tensions.
The summit was
hastily put together after Trump accepted Kim’s invitation for a meeting in
the next two months, and as the president prepared to implement the metals
Trump said the
invitation to his private club was a sign of how much he liked Abe.
“Many of the
world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. They
like it; I like it. We’re comfortable. We have great relationships,’” the
president said, boosting the private club, which collects dues that enrich