Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is slated to attend the NATO summit-related meetings in Brussels on July 11-12, is considering meeting there with President Donald Trump. The two leaders have promised to meet whenever they attend international conferences. However, the Japanese government is not keen on holding Abe-Trump talks this time since the two countries are grappling with trade issues and the tightening of sanctions on Iran, and Trump may make tough demands.
Abe had wanted to meet with Trump shortly after the U.S.-DPRK summit on June 12, but a meeting could not be scheduled, so he received a briefing from Trump over the phone instead. If the proposed meeting in Brussels does take place, Abe will thank Trump again for raising the abduction issue and will confirm continued close cooperation between Japan and the United States on North Korea’s denuclearization and a solution to the abduction issue.
However Abe’s aides have voiced the concern that “it will be tough going if Mr. Trump makes various demands.” Trump is taking an increasingly strong “America First” posture ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November. He has hinted at raising auto tariffs to reduce trade deficits, adopting an unabashed protectionist stance.
The Trump administration, which has decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, is also asking other countries to go along with its imposition of stronger sanctions on Iran. It is urging Japan and Europe not to import crude oil from Iran.
Both issues would have a tremendous impact on Japanese companies, so the government intends to ask the U.S. to act prudently.
However, Japan would like to avoid giving the impression of discord with the U.S. because it wants to deal with the North Korea issues under a strong Japan-U.S. alliance.
A Foreign Ministry source indicated that “this will be Mr. Trump’s first visit to Europe in a while, so there will be time constraints,” hinting that an Abe-Trump meeting may not take place. Another senior ministry official said: “Japan may not request a summit meeting this time.” However, there are also proposals for a short meeting or an informal chat between the two leaders because if they do not meet at all, there may arise the perception that the two countries are bogged down with various issues.