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3-min read

Donald Trump Becomes First Foreign Leader to Meet Japan's New Emperor

Naruhito, wearing a light blue tie, and his wife Empress Masako, who was in a white hat and jacket, accompanied Trump and his wife Melania, who wore a summery white dress and tall red high heels.

AFP

Updated:May 27, 2019, 10:28 AM IST
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Donald Trump Becomes First Foreign Leader to Meet Japan's New Emperor
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for a photograph with Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako during their state call at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. (Image: Reuters)
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Tokyo: Donald Trump on Monday became the first foreign leader to meet Japan's newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito — an honour Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes will help charm the US president when it comes to thorny trade talks.

After Trump and Naruhito greeted each other in the Tokyo palace, they stood outside on a red carpet for the two countries' national anthems, the flags of the close allies fluttering in the breeze under clear skies.

While a military band played, Trump, in a dark suit and red tie, reviewed the Japanese honour guard and greeted dozens of Japanese and visiting US officials, including top White House trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and hawkish national security advisor John Bolton.

Naruhito, wearing a light blue tie, and his wife Empress Masako, who was in a white hat and jacket, accompanied Trump and his wife Melania, who wore a summery white dress and tall red high heels.

Walking together through the palace, notable for its elegant, restrained decor, the two couples then sat down for a further chat where official translators found themselves with little to do — Naruhito having gone to Oxford and Masako graduating from Harvard.

About 50 minutes later, Trump and the first lady returned to the "Beast" limousine and the US president departed for his next meeting: a summit and lunch with his avowed friend Abe.

In the evening, Trump and Melania will be back at the palace for a banquet.

That will mark the lavish high point in a Japan visit laden with feel-good moments aimed at celebrating US-Japanese ties at a time of growing regional uncertainty due to US trade policies, a rising China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Dining with Abe and their wives at a typical Tokyo grill restaurant on Sunday, Trump said he was having "a great time" and looking forward to meeting Naruhito, who took the Chrysanthemum Throne only three weeks ago, after his father stepped down in the first abdication in two centuries.

Trump called the occasion "a great honour".

Earlier, the two leaders had played golf, stopping for a grinning selfie. Trump also took a star turn at a prestigious sumo tournament when he presented a gigantic trophy, brought from the United States, to the champion.

Abe is hoping these good vibes will spread into serious talks on US-Japanese trade and military ties.

And he may be getting results.

Within an hour of touching down in Tokyo on Saturday, Trump railed against what he sees as a trade imbalance between the world's top and third-largest economies and vowed to make the relationship "a little bit more fair".

On Sunday, however, Trump already struck a softer note, saying that "much" of that deal would wait until Abe faces upper house elections likely in July — as rumours swirl that the popular prime minister will combine that vote with a snap general election.

With his trade war against China getting bogged down, Trump won't want another dispute to rock the boat for his closest Asian ally.

Top Japanese and American trade negotiators spent more than two hours locked in talks on Saturday night but failed to achieve a breakthrough, although the Japanese side said there was more "understanding" between the two sides.

- 'Small weapons' -

On North Korea, Trump appeared to undercut his own national security advisor, Bolton, by downplaying two recent short-range missile tests by the totalitarian country's all-powerful leader Kim Jong Un which raised tensions in the region.

"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Trump tweeted.

"I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me."

Before Trump landed in Tokyo, Bolton had told reporters there was "no doubt" that the launches contravened UN Security Council resolutions, the first time a senior US administration official has said this.

The issue is bound to come up as the leaders meet families of people abducted by North Korea during the Cold War era to train Pyongyang's spies, an emotive issue in Japan that Abe has pressed Trump to raise in talks with Kim.

The nationalist Abe himself has frequently offered to meet Kim to solve the "abductee problem", as it is known in Japan.

On Tuesday, Trump is expected to address troops at a US base in Japan, highlighting the military alliance between the two.

His visit there will underline another big US priority — arms sales to Japan, which is considering revamping its air force with advanced US F-35 warplanes.

| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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