The administration of President Barack Obama conveyed its opposition to Japan over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in mid-November in New York, a diplomatic source said Sunday. On Monday, Abe dismissed the report as false.
Washington urged Tokyo not to go ahead with such an unprecedented meeting, saying the 70-year-old businessman had not yet assumed the presidency, the source said.
Despite Washington’s opposition, Abe became the first foreign leader to hold a face-to-face meeting with Trump when he made a stopover in New York en route to Peru to attend a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Japan stressed that the meeting between Abe and Trump would be unofficial, without dinner despite Trump’s invitation, but the Obama administration remained opposed.
Obama later had a brief chat with Abe on the fringes of the APEC summit in Lima on Nov. 20, despite the two countries’ earlier efforts to arrange sit-down talks which would have been the last bilateral summit before Obama leaves office in January, the source said.
Abe strongly denied the report on Monday during a meeting of an Upper House committee on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
“The report is absolutely incorrect,” Abe said. “We were in touch with the Obama administration about my meeting with the president-elect, and it was our stance from the very beginning that the meeting must not look as if that there were two presidents existing in the U.S.”
Abe added that the Trump side, too, made a point that such a misleading scenario must be avoided.
“There are even reports that my meeting with the president-elect made my relationship with President Obama rocky. But that is sorely mistaken. And I guarantee that we will learn the truth sometime soon,” Abe said.
Abe hailed the Japan-U.S. relationship in Hiroshima in May when Obama became the first incumbent U.S. leader to visit the city, using the phrase “trust and friendship.”
Although the two leaders had opportunities to hold bilateral talks at least three times since Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, all of them ended up as merely an exchange of words rather than a sit-down meeting.
The source suggested that Obama’s dissatisfaction with Abe’s approach to Russia could lie behind the seeming distance between the two allies.
With the aim of achieving a breakthrough in stalled territorial disputes with Russia, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Dec. 15 and 16.
U.S.-Russian ties have soured in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 that drew international sanctions against Moscow.
In February this year, Obama urged Abe to refrain from visiting Russia in May as Washington tried to isolate Moscow over the Crimea issue.
According to the source, the U.S. government conveyed its opposition to Japan over the Abe-Trump meeting on Nov. 17 after the two men had agreed on it during telephone talks on Nov. 10 following Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice was at the forefront of the opposition within the White House, the source said.
The United States reportedly told Japan it was unacceptable for Washington to see an Abe-Trump meeting over dinner as proposed by the president-elect, resulting in Tokyo dropping the idea of dinner and denoting the New York meet as “private and unofficial” with only Abe and a translator taking part.
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