Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed during a telephone conversation Saturday to hold face-to-face talks on Feb. 10 and affirmed the importance of bilateral ties, the Japanese and U.S. governments said.
The leaders “affirmed in our phone conversation the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance in economic and security challenges,” Abe told reporters after the call.
And Trump “affirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to ensuring the security of Japan,” the White House press office said.
The talks in Washington will be the first meeting between the Japanese and American leaders since Trump took office. The two held unofficial talks in New York last November shortly after Trump caused a shock by winning the highly divisive presidential race.
“I want us to have a frank exchange of views on the economy and security in our meeting,” Abe told reporters after Saturday’s 42-minute phone call with Trump.
A government official quoted Abe as telling Trump that he “hopes the United States will become a greater country through (your) leadership,” adding Japan wants to “fulfill our role as your ally.”
Trump told Abe the United States considers Japan an extremely important partner and feels the alliance between the countries is of high importance, the official said.
The two leaders also committed to deepening the bilateral trade and investment relationship, according to the White House.
Abe explained to Trump the contributions Japanese automakers make to the U.S. economy, the official said without elaborating, while another government source said Trump asked Abe to urge Japanese companies to create more jobs in the United States.
Since his inauguration, Trump has accused Japan of conducting trade practices in the automobile sector that are “not fair” to U.S. companies. Trump administration threats to impose a 20 percent tariff on various products made in Mexico and shipped to the United States could also adversely affect Japanese automobile and auto parts makers with plants there.
After Trump criticized Toyota Motor Corp. this month for building a second assembly plant in Mexico, Japan’s biggest automaker quickly announced it would invest $10 billion in its U.S. operations over the next five years.
Trump and Abe did not specifically discuss the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Trump pulled the United States out of via executive order last week, a Japanese official said.
Trump has said he favors bilateral deals over the TPP, which he called a “disaster” for the United States.
Abe, who was betting heavily on the pact to provide the heavily touted but absent structural reforms in his Abenomics program, hailed the TPP’s promised benefits and strategic importance in setting a fair standard for regional trade. China, the world’s second-largest economy, is not a signatory to the TPP.
The leaders, however, did not specifically discuss the possibility of negotiating a bilateral trade deal, the official said.
Abe indicated in the Diet last week that Japan could pursue a free trade agreement or economic partnership agreement with the United States while still promoting the TPP.
While noting that Abe and Trump have “different approaches” on trade, the Japanese official said the two leaders will have a frank discussion about that issue when they meet next month.
The leaders also discussed matters related to the security situation in East Asia, as well as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ trip to Japan, the official said. Mattis will visit Japan from Feb. 3 to 4 for talks with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, following a stop in South Korea.
The White House quoted the leaders as saying they will “consult and cooperate” on the threat posed by North Korea.