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Trump rolls out red carpet for Abe

But tough sledding during pre-summit talks raises questions

KOYA JIBIKI, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump is extending an unusually warm welcome to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for their first summit, including an invitation to his private estate and two dinners, though questions remain over the actual substance of their meeting.

After meeting in Washington on Friday, the leaders will fly to Palm Beach, Florida, on Air Force One. Abe will stay for two nights at the Mar-a-Lago estate there, and will play some golf with the president on Saturday. He will also have dinner with Trump and his wife, Melania, on both nights. Including breakfast and lunch, Abe and Trump could share up to five meals together.

Despite the warm reception, the two sides apparently faced serious challenges during working-level talks to prepare for the summit. Tokyo remains unsure of what exactly Trump might do in part because the new U.S. administration has not completely settled yet, due to unfilled political appointments and delays in the confirmation of cabinet members.

Looking back, a June 2001 summit between then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then-U.S. President George W. Bush was one of the more successful first meetings in recent history. In a relaxed, no-tie session at Camp David, Koizumi pledged to address nonperforming loans and carry out other structural reforms in Japan's financial sector, which Bush supported.

They got "to know each other on a personal basis so that they can work together as leaders of an enduring alliance," they said in a joint statement afterwards.

Japan's Yasuhiro Nakasone and America's Ronald Reagan were also known for having a special friendship as leaders, which was dubbed the "Ron-Yasu" relationship. But their first meeting was difficult. Despite reaffirming a commitment to the alliance, including on security issues, the two were bitterly divided over market access for beef and oranges.

Abe's first summit with former U.S. President Barack Obama in February 2013 paved the way for an even stronger bilateral alliance, possibly in reaction to uncertainties over the countries' ties under the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government. But it still took over a year for Obama to state that Japan's Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China, were covered under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which requires the U.S. to help defend Japanese territory.

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