US Vice President Mike Pence kicked off talks with Japan that Washington hopes will open doors for US goods and attract infrastructure investment.
The economic talks could eventually result in a bilateral trade deal between the two economies. Pence arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday from South Korea, where he visited the heavily fortified border separating the North and South.
"When President Trump agreed to this dialogue, he envisioned this as a mechanism for enhancing bilateral commercial relations between the United States and Japan, and achieving results in the near future. And I share that vision and impatience," Pence told Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at the start of the talks.
"Today we are beginning a process of economic dialogue, the end of which may result in bilateral trade negotiations in the future," Pence told a news conference with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, his counterpart at Tuesday's talks.
"At some point in the future, there may be a decision made between our nations to take what we have learned in this dialogue and commence formal negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA)," he said. "But I leave that for the future."
The comments dash the hopes of Japanese policymakers, who have said they want to avoid use of the economic dialogue as a forum to discuss a bilateral FTA that may put them under US pressure to open up highly-protected areas like agriculture.
Pence's economic discussions in Tokyo will be closely watched to see how hard a line Washington is prepared to take on trade. Trump campaigned on an "America first" platform, and has vowed to narrow big trade deficits with nations such as China and Japan.
"We appreciate the challenging time in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocation across the Sea of Japan," Pence said in Tokyo before a lunch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "We are with you 100 percent."
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the US, has conducted a series of ballistic missile launches in recent months in defiance of UN sanctions and concerns have been growing that the reclusive state could soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.