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Several thoughts on President Trump’s visit to Japan


President Trump spent Memorial Day weekend in Tokyo, where he was Japan's first state guest since the enthronement of the new emperor.

Trump received the red-carpet treatment from the imperial family, took in a sumo tournament and golfed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But the president was often fixated on the same topics that have consumed him recently in Washington, D.C., launching attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden and weighing in on nuclear tensions with North Korea and Iran.

Here are five takeaways from the president’s visit to Japan.

Trump contradicts ally on North Korea

Abe sought to use Trump’s visit to demonstrate he is in lockstep with the U.S. and show off his close personal relationship with the president. But Trump broke with his host on perhaps the most critical national security issue facing both nations: North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump said during a joint press conference that he was not “personally” bothered by Pyongyang’s short-range missile tests, which Abe recently called “extremely regrettable” and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolution.

The president’s comments also contradicted the view of his own national security adviser, John Bolton, who agreed with Abe that the launches violated missile-test bans.

“My people think it could have been a violation, as you know,” Trump said at a press conference. “I view it differently. I view it as a man — perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.”

The divisions showed Trump is increasingly isolated in his belief that he can still reach a nuclear agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that he is not afraid to ruffle feathers in stating his desire to do so.

It could also raise uncomfortable questions at home for Abe, who has put a premium on forging close ties with Trump.

Biden is on Trump's mind

Trump has been preoccupied with the former vice president’s bid to challenge him in 2020 for weeks, and that did not stop at the waters’ edge.

The president took aim at Biden on each day of his visit to Japan. Shortly after arriving, he tweeted that he smiled at North Korea’s Kim calling Biden a “low IQ individual.” Before departing, Trump again took to Twitter to target the former vice president’s support of the 1994 crime bill.

On the day in between, Trump railed against his potential opponent’s record during the press conference with Abe. Asked whether he was siding with the North Korean dictator over a former U.S. vice president, Trump made clear where he stood.

“Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that,” the president said.

Trump’s broadside drew pushback from some allies back home.

“Wrong for @POTUS Trump to criticize @JoeBiden in Japan and to agree with Kim Jong-un,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) tweeted. “Politics stops at water’s edge. Never right to side with murderous dictator vs. fellow American.”

China trade tensions loom large

While the U.S. and Japan sought to use Trump’s four-day visit to advance a bilateral trade deal, the president’s trade war with China hung over his trip.

Trump said he is willing to wait out Chinese President Xi Jinping in order to secure what he believes is the best deal possible, an indication the stand-off could last weeks or months longer.

“I think they probably wish they made the deal that they had on the table before they tried to renegotiate it,” Trump said of China at the joint press conference with Abe. “They would like to make a deal. We're not ready to make a deal.”

It’s not clear Trump and Abe made much headway toward their own agreement. The president took a jab at Japan immediately upon landing in Tokyo for having a “substantial advantage” on trade and later knocked the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Abe has touted as an economic counterweight to China, during their press conference.

Trump concluded his visit by saying he could announce a new trade pact with Japan “probably in August” to address the U.S. trade deficit, but Japan’s top economic official later played down the chances of a deal by later this summer, saying Trump’s comments merely reflected his own hopes for a quick agreement.

Trump looks for opening with Iran

The Trump administration has in recent weeks ratcheted up its posture toward Iran, with the president announcing as he left for Japan that he’d ordered an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East to counter Iranian influence.

But throughout his stay in Tokyo, the president expressed interest in scaling back tensions and starting negotiations with Tehran. He emphasized he was not looking for regime change, as some critics have suggested, and raised the idea that Abe could serve as an intermediary between the U.S. and Iran.

“We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We’re looking for no nuclear weapons,” Trump said during the press conference.

Trump’s optimism that the two sides will be able to reach a deal after he withdrew last year from the Obama-era nuclear pact is at odds with his own top advisers and leadership in Tehran. The escalating tensions have led to concerns that the two countries, which have no direct diplomatic channels, could be headed toward a conflict.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in response to Trump’s comments in Japan that the country sees “no prospect of negotiations with America.”

Trump basks in the spotlight

With Trump returning to the country in less than a month for the Group of 20 (G-20) summit of world leaders, the state visit was largely an opportunity for pomp and pageantry with Japan’s leaders.

Trump has shown a penchant for being at the center of attention, and in Japan, they literally rolled out the red carpet.

The president walked alone along a red carpet as part of an elaborate ceremony to meet with the new emperor, Naruhito, at the Imperial Palace.

He spent his first morning in Japan on the golf course with Abe and later sat ringside at a sumo tournament to observe the country’s national sport. Following the matches, Trump presented the winner with the President’s Cup, a newly created 60-pound silver trophy with an eagle on top and later took part in a state banquet.

As much as Trump appeared to be engaged with events back home and elsewhere, he seemed to take a liking to his treatment in Japan.

“This has been a truly amazing and unforgettable visit to Japan,” Trump told the members of the military aboard the USS Wasp for Memorial Day remarks. “Melania and I are profoundly grateful to their majesties, the new emperor and empress. I had the great honor of being their first state guests. That was a big honor for our country."

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