Trump publicly disagrees with Japan’s Abe over North Korea missile threat, calling Kim ‘smart man’

Asked if he is concerned about Pyongyang’s weapons tests, US president replies: ‘I’m not. I personally am not’

Chris Baynes
Monday 27 May 2019 14:54 BST
Donald Trump is not 'bothered' by North Korea missile tests

Donald Trump has said he is unfazed by North Korea’s recent short-range missile tests, putting him publicly at odds with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe who is hosting the US president on a state visit.

The two leaders disagreed on the issue during a joint press conference designed to showcase US-Japan relations in Tokyo on Monday. Mr Abe, standing alongside Mr Trump following hours of talks, said Pyongyang’s missile tests earlier this month violated UN Security Council resolutions and were “of great regret”.

He added the missiles posed a security threat to Japan, which neighbours North Korea. But Mr Trump said: “My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a “smart man” who “perhaps … wants to get attention”, he suggested. “Who knows? It doesn’t matter,” the president added.

Asked if he was “bothered” by the missile tests, he replied: “I’m not. I personally am not.” Mr Trump sought to downplay the significance of the missile tests, despite his own national security adviser, John Bolton, saying last week there was “no doubt” they had violated UN resolutions.

North Korea’s foreign ministry on Monday lashed out at Mr Bolton, whom a Pyongyang spokesperson described as “more than ignorant” and “a structurally defective guy”.

“Our military drill neither targeted anyone nor endangered the surrounding countries, but Bolton makes dogged claims that it constitutes a violation of the ‘resolutions’, impudently poking his nose into other’s internal matters,” North Korean state media quoted the spokesperson as saying.

Mr Trump continues to hold out hope of persuading Mr Kim to relinquish his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, despite two rounds of talks with the North Korean leader breaking down with little progress.

“All I know is there have been no nuclear tests, no ballistic missiles going out, no long-range missiles going out, and I think that someday we’ll have a deal,” the US president said during Monday’s press conference, although he added he was in “no rush”.

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During the press conference at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, the leaders largely glossed over their differences on trade, despite the potentially crippling tariffs on foreign cars that Mr Trump is threatening to impose on Japan and the European Union.

The US president declined to say what Japan would have to do to avoid those tariffs, but complained of an “unbelievably large” trade imbalance with the nation.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Trump said he backed his Japanese counterpart’s interest in leveraging his country’s good relations with Iran to help broker dialogue between the US and its Middle Eastern adversary.

Mr Abe could could visit Iran next month in a bid to diffuse escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Mr Trump’s talks with Mr Abe came hours after the US president became the first world leader to meet Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who ascended to the throne on 1 May.

The meeting with Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, was preceded by a grand outdoor welcome ceremony at Japan’s Imperial Palace, where Mr Trump walked alone across red carpets, reviewing Japanese troops as the guest of honour.

Mr Trump’s four-day state visit also included a round of golf with Mr Abe, the presentation of a trophy to a sumo wrestling champion, and dinner in Tokyo with the leaders’ wives.

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