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Japan leader to meet Trump after snub

Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Barely two weeks after Donald Trump was elected, Shinzo Abe rushed to Trump Tower to meet America's new leader in a cordial 90-minute visit.

The Japanese prime minister was also the first foreign leader invited to Mar-a-Lago, Trump's resort in Palm Beach, Fla. And the relationship blossomed further when the president made Japan the first stop on his Asia trip last fall -- a visit featuring golf, burgers and matching baseball caps emblazoned with "Donald & Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater."

But despite those promising beginnings, Abe's view of Trump has suddenly veered to alarm.

Tokyo was dismayed last month when Trump suddenly announced he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. There had been nary a word of warning, much less consultation, for America's closest friend in the western Pacific.

Adding insult to injury, later the same month, Japan was the only major American ally not promised an exemption from Trump's hefty new tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum.

"I think the Japanese thought that Abe kind of knew how to handle Trump. That was his big mistake," said Clyde Prestowitz, a top trade negotiator in the Reagan administration and expert on East Asian economics.

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Now, chastened and anxious, Abe will return to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday for a crucial summit with Trump.

The focus will be on North Korea and its nuclear weapons program -- an issue vastly more urgent for Tokyo than for Washington. Although Kim may have nuclear missiles capable of hitting the West Coast of the United States, North Korea has already demonstrated many times over that it can rain ballistic horror on Japan any time it chooses.

Whether the return to Mar-a-Lago includes a round of golf, the atmosphere will be far more tense for Abe than it was on his first visit.

It isn't just that both men are weighed down by political troubles at home -- Abe by a land-sale scandal and Trump by a persistent investigation involving Russia and his sexual indulgences.

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