OSAKA — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday highlighted the strength of the alliance with the United States as he met President Donald Trump, in an apparent effort to deflect the president’s recent criticism of what he sees as a one-sided security treaty.
Noting that the two are meeting for the third month in a row, Abe said at the outset of their talks in Osaka, “These frequent visits between the leaders in such a short period of time are evidence of the robust Japan-U.S. alliance.”
Abe also sought cooperation from Trump to achieve results from the two-day Group of 20 summit that is set to start later in the day in Osaka under his chairmanship, saying that global issues cannot be addressed without the two working together.
Trump, meanwhile, suggested that his attention is largely on trade and defense equipment purchases, while hailing the growing U.S. investments by Japan automakers.
The meeting took place after Bloomberg news agency reported earlier this week that Trump mused to confidants about withdrawing from the security treaty that has formed a key part of the Japan-U.S. ties after the end of World War II.
The treaty requires the United States to come to the defense of Japan in the event of an attack. Around 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, which has renounced war under its postwar Constitution, enabling the United States to respond rapidly to contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region, including North Korea.
Japanese and U.S. government officials quickly moved to shrug off the media report. But Trump, in remarks similar to those he made during the 2016 presidential campaign, openly showed his discontent with the treaty on Wednesday on Fox Business Network.
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. We will go in and we will protect them and we will fight with our lives and with our treasure…but if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television, the attack,” he said.
During the talks with Trump, Abe was also expected to discuss the tense situation in the Middle East and emphasize the need to prevent an escalation of tension in the region, stemming from the confrontation between the United States and Iran over a global nuclear deal reached in 2015.
With Japan long enjoying amicable ties with Iran, Abe made a two-day visit there earlier in the month in an apparent bid to serve as a bridge between Washington and Tehran.
But tensions spiked as two oil tankers, one operated by a Japanese company, were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, a critical route for oil shipments from the region. Trump also came close to launching a military strike against Iran, which downed a U.S. drone last week.
On North Korea, Abe and Trump were to reaffirm during their talks the need to work toward ridding the country of its nuclear weapons.
Talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended in February without a deal on denuclearization, but the two have voiced willingness to return to the negotiating table.
As for trade issues, Abe and Trump were expected to agree to accelerate the ongoing negotiations toward a bilateral trade agreement, according to a Japanese government official.
The talks at the ministerial level started in mid-April as part of Trump’s push to reduce his country’s large trade deficit and increase jobs.
During his previous visit to Japan as a state guest in May, Trump suggested he will not push Japan for a trade deal before a House of Councillors election in July.