Trump and Abe tee off amid US-Japan trade tensions
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, is welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upon arrival for playing a round of golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, south of Tokyo, Sunday, May 26, 2019. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)
Darlene Superville And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, May 25, 2019 7:02AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 25, 2019 10:24PM EDT
MOBARA, Japan -- Golf never seems to be far behind whenever President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe get together.
So on Sunday, during a four-day state visit to Japan, the president jumped aboard Marine One in Tokyo and flew south to the Mobara Country Club for a steamy morning round with the Japanese leader.
Abe is Trump's closest friend among world leaders and it's the fifth time they played golf together since Trump took office. Abe's strategy is to keep his country out of Trump's crosshairs amid U.S.-Japan trade tensions and the continued threat North Korea poses to both nations.
Later in the day, Abe will introduce Trump to Japan's ancient sport of sumo wrestling. The president will sit ringside at a championship match in Tokyo featuring the oversized athletes. He'll also present the winner with his own "President's Cup" trophy.
A motorcade of golf carts ferried Abe to meet Trump. They exchanged a warm handshake and patted each other on the forearms and posed for a throng of journalists. Abe wore white pants and a dark blue sport coat. Trump wore a red half-zip pullover with a white shirt and dark pants.
Trump tweeted that he was "Going to play golf right now with ↕AbeShinzo. Japan loves the game. Tremendous fans of ↕JackNicklaus, ↕TigerWoods, and ↕PhilMickelson." All three are famous American golfers. Trump said he asked about South African professional golf Gary Play and "they said we love Gary too!"
Abe told reporters as he left for the country club that Sunday's weather was great for golf and "it seems we are in a good mood for sumo."
Neither leader spoke at the club before they climbed into a golf cart with Abe at the wheel. Trump ignored a shouted question from a U.S. reporter about whether he believed North Korea had violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Earlier Trump downplayed North Korea's recent series of short-range missile tests. He tweeted that the tests weren't a concern for him -- even though they are for Japan.
"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Trump wrote in a message that appeared to contradict his national security adviser, John Bolton, who told reporters Saturday the tests violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Trump said he "has confidence" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "will keep his promise to me.
The president also sought to manage expectations that he and Abe will make significant headway on trade issues when they hold formal talks on Monday. Trump has been seeking a bilateral trade agreement with Tokyo since he pulled the U.S. out of the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement two years ago, though analysts expect no breakthroughs during Trump's visit.
Fox News Channel's White House Correspondent John Roberts tweeted that Trump telephoned him Sunday morning in Tokyo and told Roberts that he intended to wait until after Japan's parliamentary elections in July to push for a deal.
Trump had told business leaders after arriving in Tokyo on Saturday evening that the U.S. and Japan were "hard at work" negotiating a new bilateral trade agreement that he said would benefit both countries.
"With this deal we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to United States exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we're getting closer," he said.
The Trump administration has been threatening Japan with new tariffs on imports of autos and auto parts on national security grounds. Trump has suggested he will impose tariffs if the U.S. can't wrest concessions from Japan and the European Union. In April Japan's trade surplus surged almost 18% to 723 billion yen ($6.6 billion).
Trump also embraced Kim's verbal attack on Joe Biden, one of Trump's Democratic presidential rivals. Trump misspelled Biden's name in a tweet in which he said he "smiled" when Kim "called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that's sending me a signal?"
After Biden called Kim a tyrant during a recent speech, North Korea labeled Biden a "fool of low IQ" and an "imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being"