TOKYO — Declaring that North Korea was “a threat to the civilized world,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday in Japan that the United States “will not stand” for Pyongyang menacing America or its allies.
Trump, in one of the Asian capitals threatened by North Korea’s missiles, did not rule out military action and exhorted dictator Kim Jong Un to cease weapons testing like the missiles he has fired over Japanese territory in recent weeks. The president also denounced efforts by the Obama administration to manage Pyongyang, declaring again that “the era of strategic patience was over.”
“Some people say my rhetoric is very strong but look what has happened with very weak rhetoric in last 25 years,” said Trump, who stood with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a news conference and stated that North Korea imperiled “international peace and stability.”
Abe, who has taken a more hawkish view on North Korea than some of his predecessors, agreed with Trump’s assessment that “all options on the table” when dealing with Kim and announced new sanctions against several dozen North Korea individuals. The two men also put a face on the threat posed by the North, earlier standing with anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang’s agents, as Trump called their abductions “a tremendous disgrace.”
Trump pledged to work to return the missing to their families, intensifying the pressure on North Korean leader Kim by elevating these heart-wrenching tales of loss to the international stage in hopes of pushing Pyongyang to end its provocative behavior toward American allies in the region.
“We’ve just heard the very sad stories about family members — daughters, wives, brothers uncles, fathers — it’s a very, very sad number of stories that we’ve heard,” Trump said
Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood with nearly two dozen relatives, some of whom held photos of the missing. North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims they all died or have been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists many more were taken — and that some may still be alive.
Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of Kim, belittling him as “Little Rocket Man” but suggested that it would be “a tremendous signal” if North Korea returned the captives.
But Trump’s message on the second day of his five-country Asian tour was overshadowed by another tragic shooting back home.
Trump called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives “an act of evil,” denounced the violence in “a place of sacred worship” and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief “Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong.”
He later suggested that the shooter had mental health issues and waved off a question about gun control, saying of the massacre, “this isn’t a guns situation.”
Trump and Abe repeatedly touted their bond over two days that included a round of golf, a hamburger with American beef and a couples’ dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant.
“The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other,” Trump said. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Japan than we are right now.”
But disagreements on trade could strain the friendship.
Trump complained Monday that Japan had been “winning” for decades and rebuked the current relationship, saying the trade deals were “not fair and not open.” He told a group of American and Japanese business leaders: the United States was open for business, but he wanted to reshape the nations’ trade relationship, though he did not say how he would cut the trade deficit with Japan, which totaled nearly $70 billion last year.
He also downplayed the potentially contentious nature of the negotiations, though the Japanese government has not shown much appetite for striking a new bilateral trade agreement. Tokyo had pushed to preserve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump has abandoned.
“We will have more trade than anybody ever thought under TPP. That I can tell you,” Trump said. He said the multinational agreement was not the right deal for the United States and that while “probably some of you in this room disagree … ultimately I’ll be proven to be right.”
Abe, for his part, publicly deflected questions about trade.
The president seemed at ease in front of his CEO peers, calling out some by name, teasing that the first lady had to sell her Boeing stock once he took office and calling for Japanese automakers to make more of their cars in America, though major companies like Toyota and Nissan already build many vehicles in the United States. He promised that profits would soon rise on both sides of the Pacific once new agreements were struck.
“We’ll have to negotiate that out and it’ll be a very friendly negotiation,” Trump said, suggesting it would be done “quickly” and “easily.”
Japan orchestrated a lavish formal welcome for the Trumps, complete with military honor guard and an audience with Japan’s Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace.
That event, like so much formal diplomacy in Asia, is stepped in tradition, with violations of protocol potentially considered grievous offenses. Trump, meanwhile, sports a spontaneous and, at times, impatient manner, on display again Monday when he and Abe took part in a traditional feeding of koi in a pond.
At first, Trump followed Abe’s lead by gently spooning out small amounts of feed into the pond below. But while Abe then gracefully slipped the remainder of his box into the pond below, Trump abruptly stopped and, as cameras clicked, theatrically dumped the rest of his supply down to the fish.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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