A grumpy Trump welcomes Japan's weakened leaderOn Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will call on President Trump at his Florida resort for two days of meetings and meals. It may serve as a welcome reprieve for the duo: Abe and Trump are both weathering scandals at home, with investigators and journalists poring over evidence of both leaders' alleged cronyism.
Their latest summit at Mar-a-Lago — the pair has already met twice during Trump's time in office — may offer a brief window to change the conversation. But it may also crack the lid on a new and turbulent period of U.S.-Japan relations.
As my colleagues report, the Trump administration has recently ruffled feathers in Tokyo. First, Abe's government was alarmed by the White House's decision to embrace talks with North Korea and kick-start a diplomatic process that could downplay long-standing Japanese concerns. Then it was stung by Trump's decision not to grant Japan waivers from new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, making Japan the only major U.S. ally not to receive such an exemption. (Washington granted Seoul a waiver after revising the terms of their existing bilateral free-trade deal.)
It was a personal blow to Abe, who — unlike the liberal president of South Korea — has endeavored to build a chummy relationship with Trump. “Abe was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after the election, and the two have met and spoken 20 times — more interactions than Trump has had with any other world leader. It is Abe’s second visit to Mar-a-Lago, after meetings and a round of golf last year,” wrote The Post's David Nakamura and Anna Fifield.
During Trump's visit to Japan last year, Abe even fell into a bunker as the two leaders golfed. This year, he seems to be mired in a much bigger trap, of his own making. “I think the Japanese thought that Abe kind of knew how to handle Trump. That was his big mistake,” said Clyde Prestowitz, a top trade negotiator in the Reagan administration, to the Los Angeles Times.
“Japanese officials are intent on ensuring that Trump pushes to reduce the threat posed by the North’s short- and medium-range missiles, in addition to its nuclear arsenal and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” my colleagues reported. “And Abe also will emphasize human rights, including the unresolved abductions of at least 13 Japanese by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.”
But U.S. and Japanese interests will be hard to reconcile if Trump proves too eager in his quest to find a historic breakthrough. “If Trump makes rapid progress in his talks with Kim, that could put Abe in a very disadvantageous position. Abe is afraid of that,” said Takao Toshikawa, a veteran political journalist in Tokyo, to Fifield. “So Abe should tell Trump that Japan and the U.S. need to act as one and urge Trump to understand Japan’s position on North Korean issues, as well as economic issues.”
On trade, Abe got a fleeting glimmer of hope last week when it emerged that Trump was weighing a return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional free-trade pact long supported by the Japanese. One of Trump's first acts as president was withdrawing the United States from the agreement, which has since been reconstituted without Washington as a central player.
“If successful, it would undo one of the worst blunders of his administration, which has not exactly been error-free,” wrote Edward Alden for the Nikkei Asian Review. “And it would reassure Japan and other U.S. trading partners in Asia that the strategic interests of the U.S. in the region are strong enough to overcome Trump's impulses.”
But Trump quickly disappointed onlookers in Tokyo, tweeting that Japan would first have to negotiate a new bilateral trade deal with the United States. So far, the Japanese have shown little appetite for such talks.
Even if Trump does somehow give Abe the public guarantees he may seek, the Japanese prime minister may not be long in his post. Despite comfortably winning a new mandate in parliamentary elections last year, Abe's grip on power is slipping as he faces a pair of spiraling domestic scandals involving allegations that he helped friends at two educational institutions get special treatment from the government. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Japanese protesters gathered in front of parliament, calling for the prime minister's resignation; the approval ratings of Abe and his cabinet are at Trumpian levels.
Junichiro Koizumi, a long-ruling predecessor of Abe, told a Japanese reporter that “the situation is getting dangerous” for the prime minister and wondered whether he may choose to quit as early as this summer. Abe's every move in Florida will be watched by the traveling Japanese press corps, and Trump may be in a position to hold out a sympathetic hand.
• My colleague Abigail Hauslohner reports on a new challenge to Trump — an unprecedented uptick in American Muslims entering politics and seeking election this year. It’s part of a backlash to Trump’s perceived anti-Muslim campaigning and agenda:
“More than 90 American Muslims, nearly all of them Democrats, are running for public office across the country this year. Many are young and politically inexperienced, and most are long shots. But they represent a collective gamble: that voters are so disgusted by America’s least popular president on record that they’re willing to elect members of America’s least popular religious minority group.
"Although their number seems small, the candidacies mark an unprecedented rise for the nation’s diverse Muslim community that typically has been underrepresented in American politics.
"There are more than 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, but Muslim Americans hold just two of the 535 seats in Congress. And the Muslim community’s voter participation pales in comparison to the general public’s.
"The rise of Muslim candidates coincides with the growth of the predominantly immigrant population and a partisan shift that has played out over a generation. In a 2001 Zogby poll of American Muslims, 42 percent said they voted for Republican George W. Bush in the previous year’s presidential election, while 31 percent said they voted for Democrat Al Gore. By last year, just 8 percent of voting American Muslims in a Pew poll said they voted for Trump, while 78 percent said they voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.”
• The Wall Street Journal tells the rather sad story of a number of schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria — part of the group infamously abducted by Islamist militia Boko Haram — who were resettled at Christian academies in rural America. The Journal reports on how their American sojourn turned into another form of captivity:
“Thrust into the media spotlight by a prominent Nigerian human-rights lawyer, they say they were forced to relive their trauma to raise money and further political agendas in Washington.
"Eventually, they passed word in secret to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with an urgent plea: We are Chibok students, held captive again. Get us out of here…
"The experience of the Chibok students who made it to the U.S., never fully reported, featured a former White House adviser, evangelical lobby groups and a cowboy hat-wearing congresswoman. Along the way, say many of those involved, the truth of what really happened became embellished as they fell into the custody of a local sponsor, Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human-rights lawyer and authority on what he termed a ‘Christian genocide’ in his home country. The young women say he told them they could be shipped back there—and harmed—if they didn’t do what he said.”
• In Istanbul over the weekend, a soccer game reflected a political battle. Turkish giant Galatasaray defeated Istanbul Basaksehir, an upstart club with close ties to the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The club is decidedly pro-government, with its small fan base echoing the religious conservatism of the Turkish leader. Erdogan, who used to be a semi-professional soccer player, even offered words of encouragement before the game.
“We want Basaksehir to aim for the championship in the politics league just as in the soccer league,” Erdogan said at his party’s headquarters in Basaksehir — also the name of an Istanbul neighborhood — aligning the club’s sporting fortunes with the mobilization of his political base ahead of 2019 elections. But they lost, at least this time.
Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman has more:
“The lineup on both sides broadly mirrored the deepening polarization in Turkey, with the conservative Islamic values Basaksehir on one side, and Galatasaray — a team favored by the pro-secular, urban elite and middle classes — on the opposite. Galatasaray is also supported by millions of Kurds because the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is a big fan. This is because — so the rumor goes — the juxtaposition of the team’s yellow and red colors with the green of a soccer pitch evokes the PKK flag. At the end of the fixture, thousands of Galatasaray fans began chanting, ‘We are Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers,’ referring to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
"If the same constellation of opposition groups (the pro-secular opposition and the Kurds) could join forces against Erdogan in the presidential polls, they could defeat him in the first round of polling. But for now, that’s a long shot.”
|Not so fast
Just one day after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the United States would impose further economic sanctions on Russia, President Trump applied the brakes.
Haley had said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would announce the sanctions the next day. They would target Russian companies that supplied equipment to Syria that was related to the Assad regime's alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
But Trump conferred with his national security advisers later on Sunday and told them he was upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them, according to several people familiar with the plan.
Administration officials said Monday it was unlikely Trump would approve any additional sanctions without another triggering event by Russia, describing the strategy as being in a holding pattern. The Trump team decided to publicly characterize Haley’s announcement as a misstatement. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Monday: “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”
Asked Monday morning why it had taken 24 hours for the administration to walk back Haley’s comments, one White House official said only that there had been confusion internally about what the plan was.
The sanctions were developed in recent weeks as part of a ready menu of potential military and economic measures Trump could use to strike back at Assad’s government and his Russian patrons, according to a senior administration official.
The late-March poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil led the Trump administration to trigger the first round of economic sanctions on that menu and to expel 60 diplomats in coordination with the European allies. The reported chemical attack by Assad this month then set off a debate in the White House about whether the United States should trigger another round of sanctions to punish Russia.
But it was unclear to officials whether Trump wanted to hit Russia or wait for another attack, according to the senior administration official.
Russian officials had reacted angrily to news of more punitive measures. "I would call this international economic raiding rather than something else," said Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov to reporters. But for now, like their counterparts in Washington, they're waiting to see what comes next. — Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Anton Troianovski and Greg Jaffe
The big question
With President Trump staying in Washington to launch missile strikes on Syria and Twitter strikes on James Comey, Vice President Pence took his place at the Summit of the Americas in Peru over the weekend. The gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders is often a place for Latin American officials to vent their frustrations with Washington. But this year's edition was surprisingly kind to Trump, particularly given what he's said about various countries in the region during his time in office. So we asked Post Mexico City bureau chief Joshua Partlow, who attended the summit: What is the Trump administration's standing in Latin America right now?
"Trump’s name was barely mentioned at the summit — except by Pence — but that hardly means that regional leaders were happy.
"In Latin America, the Trump administration tends to be seen as reverting back to old preoccupations about drugs and migrants, portraying the region as the source of bad things flowing into the United States. Many countries worry about Trump’s talk of tariffs and the renegotiation of NAFTA. The prospect of large-scale deportations has alarmed governments in places such as Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras, which might have to deal with big influxes.
"But with Trump skipping the summit, it seemed like most countries — with the exception of Cuba and Bolivia — didn’t want to make a big deal about him. And Pence delivered a softer message than Trump (or even former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who praised the Monroe Doctrine last year) might have if he’d come to the summit — 'America first does not mean America alone,' Pence said.
"It doesn't hurt that Latin America has moved further to the right in recent years. There is also a lot of common ground in Latin America about the need to address the Venezuela crisis in a more coherent manner, something Pence urged during his speech.
"And despite Trump's bombast, the rest of the region has yet to see a lot of tangible changes: There’s no resolution on NAFTA talks, immigrants protected under programs such as DACA and TPS have not yet been deported en masse and there’s no big re-militarization of the drug war. So, for the time being, Latin America doesn’t seem to want to get in a shouting match — particularly if the Trump administration is all talk."
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