Trump discusses North Korea with Japan’s Abe after reported weapons tests

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he had spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about North Korea and trade after North Korea raised doubts about the future of denuclearization dialogue with new weapons tests.

In a tweet, Trump described his talk with Abe, a close ally, as a “Very good conversation!” but gave no other details.

Trump and his administration have played down the North Korean weapons tests, which took place on Saturday, and which military analysts say could have involved short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles.

Abe told reporters the United States and Japan would “respond together” to North Korea “going forward.”

If the weapons were ballistic missiles, they would have been the first fired by North Korea since its 2017 freeze in nuclear and missile testing opened the way for dialogue with the United States and South Korea.

Analysts interpreted the tests as an attempt to exert pressure on Washington to give ground in denuclearization negotiations after a February summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended in failure.

In a Twitter message on Saturday, Trump said he was still confident he could reach a deal with Kim.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Washington still had “every intention” of negotiating with North Korea. Pompeo said he and Trump spoke about the launches on Saturday and were “evaluating the appropriate response.”

“But … we’re going to exhaust every diplomatic opportunity there is,” he told CBS. “We still believe there is a path forward where Chairman Kim can denuclearize without resort to anything beyond diplomacy.”

Pompeo said the launches were “short range” and that Washington had “high confidence” they did not involve intermediate-range missiles or intercontinental missiles that threaten the United States. He said they had not crossed any international boundary and posed no threat to South Korea or Japan.

North Korea’s official media described the tests as a “strike drill” supervised by Kim to test “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.”

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said the guided weapons could have been solid-fuel ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 km (311 miles) that could neutralize the advanced U.S. THAAD anti-missile system deployed in South Korea.

White House adviser Larry Kudlow said on Friday that Washington and Tokyo may finalize a trade agreement by the end of May after Trump and Abe met at the White House last month.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Duterte, Philippines could join sea exercises with Japan, vents anger at U.S.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C), accompanied by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Delfin N Lorenzana (2nd L), watches Japan's coast guard drills in Yokohama, Japan

By Minami Funakoshi

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday his country could join naval exercises with Japan, but repeated there would be no more war games with long-time ally the United States and again gave vent to his anger against Washington.

Duterte also said he had explained to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in talks on Wednesday just why he resented the United States, reiterating that Washington treated the Philippines like “dogs on a leash” and lectured about human rights in connection with his domestic campaign against drugs.

The Philippine leader’s visit to Japan coincides with jitters about his foreign policy after weeks of verbal attacks on the United States, including threats to end military agreements, and overtures toward China.

Duterte last week announced in China his “separation” from the United States, but then insisted ties were not being severed and that he was merely pursuing an independent foreign policy.

“Joint exercise with Japan in general terms is not a problem. Stationing of Japanese troops was not discussed and with the Americans, it’s problematic,” Duterte told reporters one day after saying he wanted foreign troops out of his country “maybe in the next two years”.

“I don’t want to embarrass my defense secretary but the exercises with the Americans will be the last,” he said.

Duterte, on the final day of a three-day visit to Japan, made the comments after watching Japan Coast Guard activities in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Duterte’s recent comments pose a headache for Abe, who has tightened ties with Washington while building closer security relations with Manila and other Southeast Asian countries as a counter-weight to a rising China, which has maritime feuds with several countries in the region including Japan.

In their Wednesday talks, Duterte and Abe agreed on the importance of settling maritime disputes peacefully.

Duterte said he had explained to Abe why he was angry with the United States.

“I had told the prime minister some of my sentiments against the Americans. They are treating us like dogs on a leash,” he said. “The prime minister understands that.”

Domestic backing for Duterte is strong, but there is far from the same level of support for his stance on the United States. A peaceful protest outside the U.S. embassy in Manila in support of Duterte on Thursday drew about 500 people.

While Duterte’s anti-U.S. diatribes cast doubts on the future of the U.S.-Philippine security alliance, a clearer picture could emerge next month when defense officials from both sides have a meeting in Manila that takes place annually and typically plans joint exercises for the following year.

Although Duterte said there would be no more joint exercises, an army spokesman on Thursday confirmed preparations were under way for drills next month on the island of Palawan involving Filipino troops and a small unit of U.S. special forces.

“This was planned more than a year ago, but if there will be an order from higher authorities to cancel it, we will obey,” Colonel Benjamin Hao, an army spokesman, said.

“But, so far, there are no instructions.”

A scheduled call by Duterte on Japanese Emperor Akihito, 82, was canceled following the death on Thursday of Akihito’s 100-year-old uncle, Prince Mikasa.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie)