Tokyo and Washington are working on a two-way trade pact but President Donald Trump has said he does not expect major progress on it until July when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc faces an election for parliament's upper house.

US President Donald Trump talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Japan on May 27, 2019.
US President Donald Trump talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Japan on May 27, 2019. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump said Monday that he is not "personally bothered" by recent short-range missile tests that North Korea conducted this month, breaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is hosting the president on four-day state visit full of pageantry

Standing beside Trump at a news conference after hours of talks, Abe disagreed with the US president, saying the missile tests violated US Security Council resolutions and were "of great regret." 

Abe, who has forged a strong friendship with Trump and agrees with him on many issues, is concerned because the short-range missiles pose a threat to Japan's security.

Trump was invited to Japan to be the first world leader to meet with its new emperor. 

Despite being far from Washington, Trump also didn't miss the chance to lob another broadside against former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the Democrats seeking to challenge Trump in next year's presidential election. 

North Korea's Kim Jong-un recently criticised Biden as having a low IQ and Trump told the world he agreed with the authoritarian leader's assessment.

Abe is hosting Trump on a state visit designed to highlight the US-Japan alliance and showcase the warm relations between the leaders, despite sticky trade issues.

Trade imbalance

Trump kept up pressure on Japan to cut its trade surplus with America, saying ahead of the summit that he expected some announcements, probably in August, with the trade gap straightened out rapidly.

"Trade-wise, I think we’ll be announcing some things, probably in August that will be very good for both countries," Trump said. 

"We'll get the balance of trade, I think, straightened out rapidly."  

Abe, who has developed close personal ties with Trump since the US leader came to office, stressed the closeness of ties.

"I am determined to demonstrate at home and abroad the very strong bond," he said of the alliance in Japan's new Reiwaera, which began on May 1, when Emperor Naruhito inherited the throne.

Royal palace visit

Earlier, Trump was greeted by Naruhito and his Harvard-educated wife at the imperial palace in Tokyo in a formal welcome ceremony broadcast live on national television.

He became the first foreign dignitary to be received by the monarch since inheriting the throne after his father, Akihito, stepped down in the first abdication by a Japanese emperor in two centuries.

Trump gave a slight bow and he and First Lady Melania Trump shook hands with the imperial pair before entering the palace, to be met by Abe and his wife, Akie, among others.

The president and emperor and their wives returned outside to walk a red carpet and stand under a hot sun while a military band played the national anthems of both countries.

Trump then walked the red carpet again, waving at assembled school children and inspecting Japanese troops before a military band played a formal salute as he stood solemnly on a raised platform.

Policy disagreements

Trump has made clear he was pleased to have been given the honour of the first reception with the emperor, who is holding a lavish state dinner later on Monday for the US leader and his wife.

The two leaders have put on a show of friendship but Trump has threatened to target Japanese automakers with high tariffs in his effort to cut trade surpluses with other countries that he sees as a sign that the United States has been mistreated.

Trump has spearheaded an expensive trade dispute with China. That trade war between the world's two largest economies has hurt markets worldwide and confounded US allies, including Japan and the European Union.

Such allies share US concerns about Chinese practices but object to Trump's tactics of threatening tariffs on their products rather than seeking cooperation in standing up to Beijing.

Trump's statements on North Korea put him at odds with his own national security adviser, John Bolton, who said on Saturday Pyongyang's recent short-range missile tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Japan shares Bolton's view.

Also on Monday, Trump met families of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang decades ago to help train spies. 

US 'not looking for regime change' in Iran

The US is not seeking regime change in Iran, Trump said, as tensions between the two countries rise with Washington deploying troops to the region.

"We're not looking for regime change, we're looking for no nuclear weapons," Trump said, adding that he thinks "we'll make a deal" with Tehran.

Trump also backed the Japanese prime minister's interest in using his country's good relations with Iran to help broker a possible dialogue between the US and its nemesis in the Middle East.

Trump, who has said he's open to having a dialogue with Iran, has sought to downplay fears of military conflict, but the Iranians have said they have no interest in communicating with the White House.

Trump commented during a day that opened with the high pageantry of his meeting with Japan's emperor but quickly gave way to deliberations over thorny global issues.

"I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran so we'll see what happens," he said while meeting with Abe in Tokyo.

"The prime minister's already spoken to me about that and I do believe that Iran would like to talk. And if they'd like to talk, we'd like to talk also. We'll see what happens ... nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me."

Trump has imposed tough new sanctions on Iran, which are crippling its economy. 

North Korea on Bolton

North Korea on Monday responded to Bolton's comments about the missile tests, calling him a "warmonger."

North Korea tested short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and 9, ending a pause in launches that began in late 2017. 

The tests have been seen as a way for North Korea to pressure Washington to soften its stance on easing sanctions against it without actually causing the negotiations to collapse.

In the statement carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean spokesman said that the North was rightfully exercising its rights for self-defence with the launches.

"Demanding us to ban all launches using ballistic technology regardless of range is same with asking us to relinquish our rights for self-defence," the spokesman said. 

"Bolton should not be called a security adviser who works to secure security, but an adviser for security destruction who destroys peace and security. It's not that strange that crooked sound will always come out the mouth of a man who is structurally flawed, and it's best that this defective human product goes away as soon as possible."

US not ready for China trade deal

Trump said of China, "they would like to make a deal. We're not ready to make a deal." He added, "We're taking in tens of millions of dollars of tariffs and that number could go up very, very substantially, very easily."

Still, Trump predicted a "very good deal with China sometime into the future because I don't believe that China can continue to pay these really hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs."

The world's two largest economies are in a tense standoff over trade. Trump has said he expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, next month at a G-20 meeting in Japan.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies