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International relations

Trade deal can wait until after Japan's July elections: Trump

Stage set for summit with Abe and audience with emperor

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump play golf in Chiba, near Tokyo, during the American leader's visit to Japan on May 26. (Photo courtesy of the Cabinet Public Relations Office)

TOKYO -- The stage is set for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's summit on Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, a day after Trump indicated a deal on trade need not come during his visit.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and last for about two hours, including a luncheon.

On Sunday, the second day of his visit to Japan, Trump tweeted: "Great progress being made in our Trade Negotiations with Japan. Agriculture and beef heavily in play. Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers!"

The president's apparent decision not to press for a deal during his Japan visit suggests a measure of courtesy toward Abe as the prime minister leads his ruling coalition into a parliamentary upper house election this summer.

The U.S. has pressured Tokyo to open the nation wider to U.S. beef and farm goods -- a politically sensitive issue in Japan. Perhaps tellingly, Abe and Trump on Sunday lunched on double cheeseburgers made with both American and Japanese beef.

Also on Monday, the two leaders will likely also discuss Abe's vision for a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific," a strategy crafted in response to China's growing influence over the waters, and reaffirm their cooperation in the lead-up to the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June.

Abe once again turned to golf to deepen his rapport with Trump, with the two leaders now having spent more hours on the course together than they have in telephone conferences. They played a round together Sunday outside Tokyo.

They have spent over 16 hours playing golf together so far, over five separate occasions. This is in addition to their 10 summits and 30 phone calls since Trump took office.

Trump's "relationship with the prime minister absolutely plays a part in why the U.S. is less harsh on Japan than on China regarding trade," a source from Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

Trump and Abe's golfing tradition began in February 2017, when they played at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of their first summit as leaders. "You get to know somebody better on a golf course than you will over lunch," Trump had said on the radio at the time.

Their time on the green together serves as a looser setting for talks on weighty issues. In April, the two leaders discussed North Korea and trade over golf when Abe visited Washington. Abe spent more time golfing with Trump on that visit than they did in formal meetings.

Abe's grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who also served as Japan's prime minister, played golf with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 during a trip to Florida. This is their only known golf game together.

Also during on Monday, Trump is scheduled to have a morning audience with newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako. The president will meet in the afternoon with family members of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a joint news conference and a dinner reception at the Imperial Palace.

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