WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump played down North Korea’s launch of short-range missiles during a trip to Japan that included a visit Sunday to a sumo wrestling tournament and dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a hibachi restaurant.
Trump wrote on Twitter that he was not concerned about the firing of “some small weapons.” He also praised North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while contradicting his own advisers.
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump wrote. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me.”
The tweet ran counter to the concerns of Trump’s host, Abe, who called the North Korean missile launches “extremely regrettable” and said they are a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Trump’s second day of his Japan trip included a round of golf with Abe, an appearance at a sumo wrestling tournament and a couple’s dinner at a hibachi restaurant with First Lady Melania Trump and Abe and his wife, Akie Abe.
The four-day trip to Japan is designed to demonstrate the strength of the bond between the U.S. and Japan, despite growing trade tensions between the two nations. Trump has threatened to slap new tariffs on imports of autos and auto parts from Japan, citing national security concerns, if the U.S. cannot win concessions from Tokyo.
On Monday, Trump and Abe are scheduled to host a round of trade talks. Trump also is scheduled to meet with Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who ascended to the throne on May 1. Trump, who will be the first foreign leader to meet the new emperor, will be the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by the emperor at Japan’s Imperial Palace.
Trump’s message about North Korea’s missile firings dominated the headlines on the second day of his trip.
Trump’s tweet came just hours after national security adviser John Bolton told reporters “there is no doubt” that the launches were a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions.
The firing of short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and 9 ended a pause in launches that began in late 2017 and appeared to be an attempt by North Korea to pressure Washington to restart stalled talks on potential de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Trump and the North Korean leader have held two summits – one in Singapore last year, the other in Vietnam last February – with the U.S. goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. But the talks in Vietnam collapsed amid disagreements over what denuclearization means.
Since then, there have been no publicly known high-level contacts between the two countries, although both sides have said they are open to a third summit.
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Japan has pushed for a harder U.S. stance on North Korea.
Still, Trump insisted Sunday the U.S. and Japan have “never been closer” and said his relationship with Abe is special.
Abe appeared to send a similar message by tweeting a selfie with Trump on the golf course. “I would like to make the Japan-U. S. alliance even more unwavering in the era of new Japanese,” Abe wrote.
On Monday, the United States and Japan are to hold formal trade talks. But Trump appeared to tamp down expectations that the two sides would emerge from the negotiations with a trade deal.
Trump tweeted that he would not push for a bilateral trade deal with Japan until after the election in the upper house of Japanese parliament.
“Great progress being made in our Trade Negotiations with Japan,” he wrote. “Agriculture and beef heavily in play. Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers!”
Presidents traditionally leave partisan politics at home when traveling on foreign soil. But with next year’s presidential election fast approaching, Trump got in a few partisan digs at Democrats while in Tokyo.
“Great fun and meeting with Prime Minister @AbeShinzo,” he tweeted. “Numerous Japanese officials told me that the Democrats would rather see the United States fail than see me or the Republican Party succeed – Death Wish!”
Trump also took a swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name he misspelled in a tweet. Trump wrote that he smiled when North Korea’s Kim called “Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
The spelling of Biden’s name was later corrected.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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