President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump receive Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe for dinner at Trump's private club Mar-a-Lago on Wednesday, April 1
PALM BEACH, Florida – President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday they had failed to reach an agreement that would exempt Japan from new US steel and aluminum tariffs. Instead, the leaders announced that they had agreed to hold talks on a new "free, fair and reciprocal" trade agreement between the two countries after two days of talks.
"If we can come up with an agreement on a new agreement that we would certainly discuss," Trump said as he was asked about tariffs at a joint press conference in his private club Mar-a-Lago.
But he said the current trade deficit between The two countries were too high to get a dispensation now. According to the US Department of Commerce, the trade deficit last year was $ 56.1 billion.
It was a disappointment for Japan. Most of the other important US allies – including Australia, Canada, the European Union and Mexico – have already received exceptions to Trump's protectionist measures. And Japan has so far refused to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with the US, and said it would prefer a US resumption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But Abe, whose visit is coming, is preparing for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, reassured Trump that he and the president were on the same page when it comes to the Kim meeting.
Perhaps most important for Abe: Trump's promise to raise with Kim the question of the Japanese citizens who have
Trump said from his discussions that the abductees were "one of the really most important things on Shinzo's mind". Trump said he wanted to see the "families reunited as soon as possible."
Pyongyang admits to having kidnapped 13 Japanese while Tokyo kidnapped North Korea 17. Five were returned to Japan. North Korea says that eight others have died, denying that the remaining four came into its territory. Japan has called for more research, and Abe has made the subject one of his top priorities.
The US is also pushing for the release of three imprisoned Americans. CIA Director Mike Pompeo picked Kim up at his meeting earlier this month, according to a senior White House official who was not allowed to disclose the sensitive discussions and speak with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Trump optimistic on Wednesday He said officials have worked "very diligently" to secure American return and that there is a "good chance".
But Trump made it clear in the trade that he would rather have a bilateral trade deal with Japan to resume in the 11-country TPP Pacific Rim Trade Pact.
"I do not want to go back to TPP, but if they offer us a deal that I can not refuse on behalf of the United States, I would do it," said Trump. Nevertheless, he added, "I like bilateral relations better, I think it's better for our country, I think it's better for our workers, and I would much rather prefer a bilateral agreement, an agreement directly with Japan."
Trump and Abe also seemed to agree on the issue of steel and aluminum imports. Abe argued during the press conference that Japanese imports would "have no negative impact on US security," saying that the high quality of Japanese steel and aluminum products was hard to replace.
The visit included a mix of business and pleasure. Trump and Abe spent Wednesday mornings golfing at one of the president's nearby golf courses. On Tuesday night, the President and First Lady held Abe and his wife outdoors for an intimate dinner on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago. And the group came together again on Wednesday evening for a second, bigger dinner.
Despite their disagreements, officials from both countries insist that the personal relationship that Trump and Abe share has never been stronger. The leaders have agreed on "Gulf diplomacy" in both the US and Japan, and US officials note that Trump has met with Abe more than any other foreign leader.
During the trip, Abe Trump praised his courage to meet Kim and said that Kim's willingness to meet was a sign that the pressure campaign against the North was working.
But he also warned caution and said there should be "no reward" for the North just because the withdrawn land responds to dialogue. He said that "maximum pressure should be maintained." On Tuesday night, media, including The Associated Press, reported that Pompeo recently secretly traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim at a US North Korea summit scheduled for the next two months. Trump confirmed the meeting in a tweet on Wednesday and said that "a good relationship was established with his expected summit with Kim".
"Denuclearization will be a great thing for the world, but also for North Korea!" Wrote Trump.  ___
Associated Press authors Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
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