Japan’s Abe first leader to meet Trump in person

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd L) and his wife Akie (2nd R) wave to well-wishers prior to boarding a government plane at Tokyo's Haneda airport on November 17, 2016

New York (AFP) – Japan’s Shinzo Abe sat down Thursday with Donald Trump, becoming the first foreign leader to meet the US president-elect as he works to shape a cabinet that may include both staunch backers and former rivals.

The Japanese prime minister flew into New York to chat with the billionaire at his Manhattan skyscraper as Trump met with a steady stream of operatives from his Republican Party as he prepares to take office on January 20.

Officials from both sides confirmed the meeting at Trump Tower had begun.

Abe, a defense hawk who is in a strong political position at home, was likely to sound out Trump on issues from Asian security to trade.

Japan is one of Washington’s closest allies but Trump alarmed Tokyo policymakers during the campaign by musing about pulling the thousands of US troops from the region and suggesting that officially pacifist Japan may need nuclear weapons.

Trump also vowed during the election to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed vast trade pact backed by outgoing President Barack Obama and which Abe had made a top priority.

Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Trump and incoming vice president Mike Pence looked forward to meeting the Japanese leader. 

But she told CBS television: “Any deeper conversations about policy and the relationship between Japan and the United States will have to wait until after the inauguration.”

Obama, who has refrained from overt criticism of his successor since the election, was wrapping his final visit to Europe in Berlin — where some commentators saw him as passing the torch as the world’s champion of liberal democracy to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump separately met with Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and hinted that he would offer a prime position to the Republican, one of the earliest supporters of Trump’s once longshot campaign who shares the 70-year-old billionaire’s antipathy to immigration.

The tycoon in a statement said he was “unbelievably impressed” with Sessions but had not yet made decisions on his cabinet.

– Victory lap for Trump –

MSNBC reported that Trump may also be considering one of his harshest Republican critics, Mitt Romney, as secretary of state. Trump was apparently set to meet with the former Massachusetts governor over the weekend.

“I think Mr Romney would be quite capable of doing a number of things,” Sessions told reporters after his talks with Trump.

Romney, who lost to Obama in 2012, had described Trump as vulgar, dishonest and out of line with US values, rebuking the tycoon for proposals such as banning all foreign Muslims from the United States.

Earlier reports said that Trump may give the job of top diplomat to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an Indian American woman who would inject rare diversity into his team. Haley headed into Trump Tower on Thursday but did not speak to reporters.

Another name floated for the State Department has been former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a combative longtime backer of Trump, who would likely face tough Senate scrutiny over his business dealings.

Trump also met 93-year-old Henry Kissinger, the apostle of realpolitik who guided foreign policy for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and with Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

“Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” Dermer said.

The real estate mogul will be the first US president since Dwight Eisenhower without experience in elective office and has faced early criticism for not going through the usual State Department channels for his first conversations with foreign leaders.

Trump pulled off the biggest upset in modern US political history through support from white working-class voters, defeating Hillary Clinton in a number of states that had given Obama comfortable victories including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

George Gigicos, the campaign’s advance team director, told reporters that Trump would head to some such states after next week’s Thanksgiving holiday in his first post-election trip outside the New York area and Washington.

“We’re working on a victory tour now. It will happen in the next couple of weeks,” he told reporters.

– Democrats face internal challenge –

Transition officials said Trump would head Friday to his exclusive golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The location would offer more seclusion and comes amid complaints by New Yorkers about the traffic closings and congestion in front of Trump Tower, situated on bustling Fifth Avenue.

Trump has drawn his biggest post-election outrage by appointing anti-establishment firebrand Stephen Bannon, who pushes white identity politics, as his chief strategist.

At least 169 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that Trump remove Bannon, saying the appointment of the onetime chairman of the far-right Breitbart website “directly undermines your ability to unite the country.”

But top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, meeting in Washington with Pence, said her party stood ready to work with Trump on areas of potential agreement such as improving child care access — an issue the tycoon embraced during the campaign.

Pelosi, 76, a liberal from San Francisco who as House speaker was the highest-ranking woman in US history, has led House Democrats since 2002 with strong internal support.

But 43-year-old Representative Tim Ryan from industrial Ohio on Thursday announced he would challenge Pelosi, saying that the election showed that Democrats needed ” to listen and bring a new voice into leadership.”

“Keeping our leadership team completely unchanged will simply lead to more disappointment in future elections,” Ryan said in a statement.


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