It’s the second time Trump has welcomed Abe to Mar-a-Lago. In February last year, the two men conferred on the dining patio after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered the test launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Fourteen months later, Trump is preparing for talks with Kim, leaving Abe feeling sidelined.
Japanese officials have signaled Abe will raise his concerns about direct talks during his two-day summit with Trump. White House aides say Trump will take those concerns into serious consideration as he prepares for the historic talks with Kim.
But there is little to suggest Trump will be deterred from holding the meeting with North Korea’s leader, which is expected by late May or early June.
“I am in Florida and looking forward to my meeting with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. Working on Trade and Military Security,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.
Trump is set to meet Abe on Tuesday afternoon for a meeting focused intently on North Korea before hosting a formal welcoming ceremony on the Mar-a-Lago lawn. Later, the two men and their wives will dine together. The talks will continue on Wednesday, expanding to include trade issues, before a news conference and another joint dinner.
It amounts to hours of face time for Abe, who is the foreign leader Trump has met and spoken with the most since entering office last year. The Japanese leader has focused on fostering the relationship, including orchestrating multiple rounds of golf and ordering up white ball caps emblazoned with the words: “Donald & Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.”
But even those efforts haven’t prevented new levels of tension from arising. Like much of the world, Japan was caught off-guard by Trump’s on-the-spot acceptance of an invitation for talks with Kim. As other Asian leaders like China’s Xi Jinping and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in meet with Kim, Abe has been left out.
He’s expected to press the importance of ensuring Japanese safety in his talks with Trump, particularly stressing the need to end test launches of intermediate range missiles, some of which have landed in the waters off Japan.
“They’ve conferred extremely closely,” said Matt Pottinger, the top Asia official on Trump’s National Security Council, during a Tuesday briefing. “Prime Minister Abe and the President are going to want to exchange views in advance of a summit with the North Korean leader so that we make sure Japanese and American interests are both fully accounted for.”
Aside from differences over North Korea, Trump has taken harsh new measures on trade that are expected to come up during the two leaders’ meetings. Japan was the only major US ally not to be exempted from Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. US officials said they expected Abe to lobby for an exemption during talks on Wednesday.