April 13, 2018 / 4:28 PM / 5 months ago

Trump, Abe to focus on North Korea in Florida talks - U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will focus heavily on the challenge posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms programme when they meet next week in Florida, a senior Trump administration official said on Friday.

File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe depart at the end of a news conference at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan, November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Trump-Abe summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach comes as U.S. officials are working to set up a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late May or early June.

The official, who briefed reporters at the White House about the Abe visit on condition of anonymity, would not describe the status of negotiations with North Korea on the summit. The exact time and place of the summit have not been established.

“Communications will by definition have to be sufficient for us to establish and prepare a successful summit,” the official said. “Preparations are under way.”

Abe will be making his second visit to Mar-a-Lago. In February 2017, Trump and Abe were meeting there when North Korea launched a ballistic missile test.

The official said Trump will want to hear more advice from Abe about the prospective meeting with Kim. They will also talk about trade, the Indo-Pacific region and Chinese activity in the South China Sea that has raised tensions in the region, the official said.

The two leaders speak frequently on the phone.

“The president has a great deal of respect for Prime Minister Abe’s views on Northeast Asia security. He will certainly want to know what additional thoughts Prime Minister Abe has beyond what he has already shared,” the official said.

Japan, a long-time treaty ally of the United States, was taken by surprise when Trump announced his plan to meet Kim. Abe wants to ensure Tokyo’s security interests are taken into account.

U.S. and Japanese officials familiar with the preparations for the Trump-Abe summit say Japan is worried Trump may seek a deal with Kim under which Pyongyang would agree to give up missiles capable of reaching the United States, without eliminating short- and medium-range missiles that threaten Japan and South Korea.

Such fears would not have been allayed by remarks on Thursday by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s choice for next secretary of state.

Pompeo told his Senate confirmation hearing the aim of the Trump-Kim summit would be “an agreement with the North Korean leadership such that the North Korean leadership will step away from its efforts to hold America at risk with nuclear weapons.”

Abe told Japan’s parliament this week he would ask Trump to seek elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan. Getting rid only of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles “has no meaning for Japan,” Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

Asked if Trump would push for the elimination of all missiles, the administration official said: “I won’t go into details, other than to say the president ... is always keeping careful consideration of the interests of our allies and our alliances as well as the interests of securing the American people here at home.”

Asked about Pompeo’s comments, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Katina Adams, said Washington remained “committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and its commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan was “ironclad.”

Trump and Abe will have an initial one-on-one meeting on Tuesday, then will be joined by national security aides for more talks. That night they will dine with their wives.

On Wednesday, the leaders will have broader discussions about a range of topics, followed by a joint news conference. Unlike last year, they are not expected to play golf.

Reporting by Steve Holland, David Brunstrom and John Walcott; Editing by Will Dunham, Phil Berlowitz and David Gregorio

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