- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader Thursday night, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Trump Tower hoping to build trust with the incoming administration despite harsh rhetoric Mr. Trump hurled at Japan and U.S. allies during the campaign.

Heading into the meeting, Mr. Abe said he would push for a discussion on the U.S.-Japanese security alliance against a backdrop of unease in Tokyo over Mr. Trump’s vow to make Tokyo pay more to support some 50,000 American troops stationed in the nation. Mr. Trump also raised eyebrows around the world when he suggested at one point that Japan and South Korea might consider developing nuclear weapons to enhance their ability to deal with the threat from North Korea.

Mr. Abe emerged from the meeting Thursday evening, which lasted just over an hour, telling reporters he had had a “candid and cordial” discussion with the U.S. president-elect. He declined to discuss specifics from the talks because, he said, they were “unofficial,” but added he was “convinced” he could have “great confidence” in Mr. Trump as president.

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told reporters the meeting would not feature serious discussions on any “diplomatic agreements” out of deference to President Obama, who does not hand the White House over to Mr. Trump until Jan. 20, but Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters last week that her country is already paying “enough” toward U.S. forces stationed there.

“I believe it is enough,” Ms. Inada said last Friday, according to Japan Today. The Japanese government says it is already delivering some $1.9 billion annually in so-called host-nation support.

Mr. Abe’s acknowledgment that the talks had been “candid” suggested the two men might have at least touched on some of the more problematic aspects of the bilateral relationship.


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Mr. Trump is an unknown quantity to many world leaders, who have rushed since his surprise victory last week to reach out to the former real estate mogul. Mr. Abe’s meeting was reportedly hastily arranged without many of the preparatory steps that usually accompany such meetings.

Before leaving Tokyo, Mr. Abe said he wanted to build trust with the next U.S. president, telling reporters the U.S. alliance “is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy and security. Only when there is trust does an alliance come alive.”

While the U.S. is projected to spend $5.7 billion for U.S. forces in Japan in the current fiscal year, Ms. Inada said Japanese officials “are bearing the costs of what we ought to pay at present.”

In addition to the $1.9 billion Japan pays, Tokyo covers more 90 percent of the cost of roughly 25,500 Japanese nationals who work at American bases, according to The Wall Street Journal. Japanese Defense Ministry estimates Tokyo’s total expenses related to U.S. troops stationed in the nation were about $6.6 billion in the year that ended in March.

On the nuclear question, Mr. Trump tried to walk back some of his comments on the stump, and accepting nuclear weapons in either Japan or South Korea would be a sharp departure from long-standing U.S. security policy.

A key Abe adviser suggested ahead of Thursday’s meeting that the Japanese prime minister and his team believe Mr. Trump’s remarks were campaign rhetoric and not necessarily reflective of how the president-elect will actually conduct himself once in office.

“We don’t have to take each word that Mr. Trump said publicly literally,” Abe adviser Katsuyuki Kawai told Reuters.

On a separate front, Mr. Abe had been a key supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Mr. Obama backed but Mr. Trump has strongly condemned and vowed to kill.

At a discussion on U.S.-Japanese ties Thursday at the D.C.-based Wilson Center, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA Fellow Jeffrey Hornung said Mr. Trump’s campaign remarks may not have a lasting impact on U.S.-Japanese ties, or of Tokyo’s strategic value to U.S. policy in Asia.

“The rhetoric of the campaign does not pertain to the people who work on the alliance every day,” Mr. Hornung said, adding that there is a distinction between Mr. Trump the candidate and how he will have to act once in the White House.

Laura Kelly contributed to this article.

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