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Trump to start state visit to Japan for audience with new emperor

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for a four-day state visit to Japan, on May 24, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- U.S. President Donald Trump is set to start a four-day state visit to Japan on Saturday, becoming the first foreign leader to meet with new Emperor Naruhito.

Trump, flanked by first lady Melania, will have an audience Monday with the emperor and Empress Masako. Trump's itinerary also includes a bilateral meeting, golf outing, visit to a grand sumo tournament and informal dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Tweeting from Air Force One en route to Japan on Friday, Trump said he is "looking forward to honoring, on behalf of the United States, His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan," and that he will discuss trade and regional security with Abe, whom he called "my friend."

In a meeting Friday with Trump's national security adviser John Bolton in Tokyo, Abe said he welcomes Trump's "historic" visit as the first state guest of Japan's new imperial era of Reiwa and expressed hope that it will further strengthen the bilateral alliance.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Trump expressed excitement about traveling to Japan. "With all the countries of the world, I'm the guest of honor at the biggest event that they've had in over 200 years," he said.

Emperor Naruhito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 after former Emperor Akihito abdicated the previous day, the first Japanese monarch to stand down in about 200 years.

In a meeting on Monday, Abe and Trump are expected to discuss bilateral trade and North Korea policy, with Trump pushing Japan to cut its trade surplus with the United States.

Similarly, American farmers have grown concerned about their reduced market share in Japan following the recent enforcement of an 11-nation Pacific free trade agreement including Japan and farming nations such as Australia and New Zealand.

The leaders are also likely to seek a good balance between pressuring North Korea and exploring opportunities for engagement with leader Kim Jong Un in a bid to address the nuclear, missile and abduction issues.

Bolton told reporters Saturday that North Korea's test-firing of missiles in early May was a violation of U.N. resolutions but that Washington is open to talks with Pyongyang.

North Korea fired projectiles that appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and May 9.

Referring to Abe's willingness to hold a meeting with Kim without preconditions, Bolton said such talks should contribute to efforts toward North Korea's denuclearization and resolution of the past abductions of Japanese nationals by the reclusive state.

Following the talks with Abe, Trump will meet with the relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. The president raised the abduction issue during the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit last June in Singapore and also in his second meeting with Kim in February in Hanoi.

On Tuesday, Abe and Trump will board the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Kaga docked at an MSDF base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, in another demonstration of the firmness of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Trump will address troops during a visit to the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base before wrapping up the trip.

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