NEW YORK -- The dinner meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lasted for two and a half hours in a private room at Trump Tower in central New York on Sept. 23, and the premier emphasized his closeness to the American leader.
According to Abe, they were originally scheduled to have the dinner at a restaurant in the tower building, but he was actually invited to Trump's reception room first, where the two leaders met for the first time in November 2016, when Trump won the presidential election. "We spent half an hour talking in the reception room because he said we would feel more relaxed. Then we had dinner together," explained Abe.
During Abe's latest visit to the United States, the two leaders tried to play golf together but could not set a date. Trump invited Abe to dinner instead, and only the two chiefs and their interpreters attended the occasion.
This informal get together, say some observers, was arranged by Trump because he intended to present Abe with demands before their official summit on Sept. 26 and ministerial trade talks between the United States and Japan on Sept. 25.
According to Abe, he and Trump agreed to keep working for North Korea's denuclearization and a resolution of the abduction issue, while the two leaders had a "very constructive" discussion on trade.
The Japanese side originally intended to deal with the contentious trade issue in the bilateral summit. The fact that Trump took up the issue on the first day of the Japan-U.S. leader meeting indicates the president's strong willingness to tackle the issue.
While Japan is urging the United States to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free-trade agreement, the U.S. demanded that Tokyo negotiate and sign a bilateral free-trade pact with Washington.
Trump wants an immediate result on the issue as he is facing the November midterm elections for U.S. Congress. The Trump administration may resort to curbing imports of Japanese automobiles and car parts -- a measure expected to severely damage the Japanese economy -- to extract a concession from Japan. Tokyo, therefore, is exploring the possibility of starting negotiations with Washington over farm and dairy products while keeping a distance from free-trade talks.
The European Union has agreed to negotiate a free-trade deal with the U.S. in areas excluding agricultural and car products, with Trump saying during the negotiations there will be no export limits on European cars. Japan expects a similar development, but it is not yet clear if Tokyo and Washington can find middle ground as Trump is known to be unpredictable.
(Japanese original by Yu Takayama, Political News Department, and Kenji Shimizu, Washington Bureau)