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Inaugural Japan-US talks bring no clarity

Differing aims, uncertainty over Trump's stance blur outlook for new dialogue

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

TOKYO -- As the new Japan-U.S. economic dialogue kicked off Tuesday, Tokyo looked to gain the upper hand through meticulous preparation, but slow progress on key appointments left a high degree of uncertainty on the American side, making it impossible to delve into substantive talks.

Japan wants to keep the sort of tensions that characterized bilateral trade relations in the past out of the new dialogue. Toward this end, it demanded that Tuesday's meeting be limited to just a few participants. The aim was to keep U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who would likely have brought up specific issues, away from talks intended to focus on establishing an overall framework for dialogue. Tuesday's discussion ran just an hour, shorter than originally planned, and the joint statement issued afterward was terse.

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