Donald Trump becomes first foreign leader to meet Japan's new Emperor Naruhito: Shinzo Abe hopes 'honour' will charm US president ahead of thorny trade talks

Tokyo: Donald Trump on Monday became the first foreign leader to meet with Japan's newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito — an honour Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes will help charm the US president when it comes to thorny trade talks.

After Trump and Naruhito greeted each other in the palace, they stood outside on a red carpet for the two countries' national anthems, the flags of the close allies fluttering in the breeze under clear skies.

While a military band played, Trump, in a dark suit and red tie, reviewed the Japanese honour guard and greeted dozens of Japanese and visiting US officials, including top White House trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and hawkish national security advisor John Bolton.

Naruhito, wearing a light blue tie, and his wife Empress Masako, who was in a white hat and jacket, accompanied Trump and his wife Melania, who wore a summery white dress and tall red high heels.

 Donald Trump becomes first foreign leader to meet Japans new Emperor Naruhito: Shinzo Abe hopes honour will charm US president ahead of thorny trade talks

US President Donald Trump is escorted by Japan's Emperor Naruhito during a welcome ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. AFP

The palace visit, to be followed by a royal banquet in the evening, was the main event in Trump's feel-good trip that started with a weekend of golf, eating out and watching sumo.

Dining with Abe and their wives at a typical Tokyo grill restaurant on Sunday, Trump said he was having "a great time" and was looking forward to meeting Naruhito, who took the Chrysanthemum Throne only three weeks ago, after his father stepped down in the first abdication in two centuries.

"It's over 200 years since something like this has happened. So it's a great honour to be representing the United States," Trump said.

After calling on Naruhito in the morning, Trump and his avowed close friend Abe will meet for summit talks and have lunch, before holding a press conference.

So far the trip has been heavy on fun and light on substance.

On Sunday, the two leaders grinned for a selfie and praised each other's golf game. Trump also took a star turn at a prestigious sumo tournament when he presented a gigantic trophy, brought from the United States, to the champion.

Abe is hoping these good vibes will spread into serious talks on trade, military ties, the stumbling efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, and a growing superpower rivalry between Washington and Beijing.

Trump attends a welcome ceremony with Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. AP

Trump attends a welcome ceremony with Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. AP

He may be getting results.

Within an hour of touching down in Tokyo, Trump railed against what he sees as a trade imbalance between the world's top and third-largest economies and vowed to make the relationship "a little bit more fair".

On Sunday, however, Trump struck a softer note, saying that "much" of that deal would wait until Abe faces upper house elections likely in July — as rumours swirl that the popular prime minister will combine that vote with a snap general election.

With his trade war against China getting bogged down, Trump won't want another dispute to rock the boat for his closest Asian ally.

Top Japanese and American trade negotiators spent more than two hours locked in talks on Saturday night but failed to achieve a breakthrough, although the Japanese side said there was more "understanding" between the two sides.

'Small weapons'

On North Korea, Trump appeared to undercut his own national security advisor, the hawkish John Bolton, by downplaying two recent short-range missile tests by Kim which raised tensions in the region.

"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Trump tweeted.

"I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me."

Before Trump landed in Tokyo, Bolton had told reporters there was "no doubt" that the launches contravened UN Security Council resolutions, the first time a senior US administration official has said this.

The issue is bound to come up as the leaders meet families of people abducted by North Korea during the Cold War era to train Pyongyang's spies, an emotive issue in Japan that Abe has pressed Trump to raise in talks with Kim.

The nationalist Abe himself has frequently offered to meet Kim to solve the "abductee problem", as it is known in Japan. On Tuesday, Trump is expected to address troops at a US base in Japan, highlighting the military alliance between the two. His visit there will underline another big US priority — arms sales to Japan, which is considering revamping its air force with advanced US F-35 warplanes.

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Updated Date: May 27, 2019 07:30:15 IST