TOKYO — President Donald Trump said Monday that he would back the Japanese prime minister’s efforts to open communications with Iran, citing Japan’s good relations with the U.S. nemesis in the Middle East.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering a visit to Iran next month amid rising tensions between Tehran and Washington over Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing activities in the region.
Trump, who has said that he’s open to having a dialogue with Iran, has sought to downplay fears of military conflict, but the Iranians have said they have no interest in communicating with the White House.
“I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran so we’ll see what happens,” Trump said while meeting in Tokyo with Abe.
“The prime minister’s already spoken to me about that and I do believe that Iran would like to talk. And if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also. We’ll see what happens … nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me.”
Trump has imposed tough new sanctions on Iran, which are crippling its economy. Late last week, he announced the deployment of 1,500 U.S. troops to the region amid escalating tension in the region.
Trump held discussions with Abe on Iran, North Korea, trade and other issues after becoming the first world leader to meet Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who ascended to the throne May 1.
Trump’s “state call” opened with handshakes and greetings from Naruhito, and his wife, Empress Masako. As he approached the emperor, Trump said, “How are you? Thank you very much.” The first lady told the empress, “Nice to meet you.”
The president, who is on a four-day state visit, was the center of attention at a grand outdoor welcome ceremony where he took a solo walk down red carpets, reviewing Japanese troops as the guest of honor.
Trump showed little emotion, but waved near schoolchildren feverishly waving U.S. and Japanese flags. Some of the children suffered from the heat and were later seen siting with cups of water and cool compresses on their foreheads.
At the White House last week, Trump noted the significance of his meeting with the emperor. Naruhito took the throne after his father stepped down, the first abdication in Japan’s royal family in about two centuries.
“It’s a very big thing going on with the emperor. It’s something that hasn’t happened in over 200 years,” Trump said. “With all the countries of the world, I’m the guest of honor at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years.”
It was Abe, not the emperor, who invited the president — a move meant to curry favor with the Trump who is threatening to impose potentially devastating tariffs on Japan’s auto industry.
He has suggested he will impose the levies if the U.S. can’t win concessions from Japan and the European Union. Japan’s trade surplus surged almost 18% in April to 723 billion yen ($6.6 billion).
Trump said he wants to get “the balance of trade … straightened out rapidly.”
“I think we will be announcing some things probably in August that will be very good for both countries,” Trump said, adding that Japan has “been doing much more business with us and we’d like to do a little bit more business in the reverse.”
On North Korea, Trump said he had a good feeling that the nuclear standoff with North Korea will be resolved.
“I may be right, I may be wrong. But I feel that. We’ve come a long way. There’ been no rocket testing, there’s been no nuclear testing,” Trump said.
This month, North Korea fired off a series of short-range missiles, which national security adviser John Bolton said were violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “There’s a good respect built — maybe a great respect built — between certainly the United States and North Korea. We will see what happens.”
Story: Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville