Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to journalists during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk following their meeting during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials discussed trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

North Korea, trade high on agenda for Trump-Abe meeting

April 26, 2019 - 12:54 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea's nuclear program and trade are at the top of the agenda for President Donald Trump's meeting Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of the president's key backers on the world stage.

The meeting comes on the heels of Thursday's nuclear talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Trump's second summit with Kim in Hanoi in February ended with no agreement, but the president says progress is being made.

"I have a great relationship with Kim Jong Un," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I appreciate that Russia and China are helping us. And China is helping us because I think they want to — they don't need nuclear weapons right next to their country. But I also think they're helping us" because the U.S. and China are engaged in trade talks.

Kim had harsher words for Trump. North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday that Kim strongly criticized Washington for taking a "unilateral attitude in bad faith" that caused the diplomatic standstill following the meeting with Trump in Hanoi.

Following their talks on Thursday, Putin said Kim is willing to give up nuclear weapons, but only if he gets ironclad security guarantees supported by a multinational agreement. He also told Putin that the situation on the Korean Peninsula has reached a "critical point" and whether tensions resume will "entirely depend on the U.S. future attitude."

Trump did not appear to be taken aback by Kim's comments to Putin, who supports sanctions and diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"I think we're doing very well with North Korea," Trump said. "A lot of progress is being made. I appreciated President Putin's statement yesterday. He wants to see it done, also. I think there's a lot of excitement toward getting a deal done with North Korea."

Beyond the formal talks between Trump and Abe, the Japanese leader and his wife, Akie, were to help celebrate first lady Melania Trump's 49th birthday Friday at a couples' dinner in the White House residence.

Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after he won the 2016 presidential election. The two share a love for golf, have teed off together both in Japan and the U.S., and are expected to play golf Saturday.

Trump and the first lady will reciprocate in May by traveling to Japan for a state visit to meet the new emperor.

The United States and Japan announced that they would open trade negotiations in September 2018. U.S.-Japan friction about trade mounted after Trump took office and started seeking to fix a chronic trade imbalance totaling $67.6 billion in Japan's favor last year, according to U.S. figures.

Japan — the world's third largest economy — only reluctantly agreed to the talks with the U.S. as a way to stave off tariffs that Trump has threatened to impose on imported autos. Last fall, Abe said at a news conferences on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that the U.S. had agreed not to impose tariffs that had been threatened on Japanese autos. The U.S., however, could still impose the so-called Section 232 tariffs on autos, which would escalate trade tensions.

The trade war is slowing the Japanese economy. Japan's exports to China fell 9.4% from a year earlier, although exports to the United States rose 4.4%, exacerbating the politically sensitive trade surplus.

The trade talks also focus on farm products.

Japanese officials have said that they made significant concessions on imports of dairy and other farm products in earlier trade negotiations and that's as far as Japan is willing to go. Japan's conservative ruling party has traditionally relied on strong support from rural voters and has sought to protect the country's farm sector from foreign competition.

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AP Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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