TOKYO – President Donald Trump ratcheted up the pressure on North Korea Monday, refusing to rule out eventual military action and declaring that the United States "will not stand" for Pyongyang menacing America or its Asian allies.
Trump, on the first stop of his lengthy Asia trip, denounced North Korea as "a threat to the civilized world," and exhorted dictator Kim Jong Un to cease weapons testing like the missiles he has fired over Japanese territory in recent weeks. Though he stood in one of the Asia capitals in range of North Korea's missiles, Trump did not modulate his fiery language, declaring that Pyongyang imperiled "international peace and stability."
"Some people say my rhetoric is very strong but look what has happened with very weak rhetoric in the last 25 years," said Trump, who stood with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a Monday news conference.
Abe, who has taken a more hawkish view on North Korea than some of his predecessors, agreed with Trump's assessment that "all options are on the table" when dealing with Kim Jong Un and announced new sanctions against several dozen North Korea individuals.
Trump and Abe have struck a strong friendship, forged in meetings, phone calls and on the golf course — a friendship that was on display at a Monday evening banquet that was the final event of Trump's visit. In a toast, Trump told the story of how, after he won the election last November, he was bombarded by phone calls from world leaders offering congratulations. Trump said he'd returned just a few — including one from Abe — who said he wanted to meet with Trump as soon as possible. Trump responded: anytime.
Trump, as he told it, wasn't aware of the protocol against president-elects meeting with world leaders. By the time Trump called Abe to wave him off, however, Trump said Abe was already on the plane to New York. "So I saw him and it worked out just fine," Trump recalled, saying, from that moment on, they'd been close.
Abe also called Trump his "dear friend" and hailed the benefits of what he called "golf diplomacy."
The two men on Monday also put a face on the threat posed by the North, earlier standing with anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang's agents.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood with nearly two dozen relatives, some of whom held photos of the missing. Seeking to increase pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump pledged to work to return the missing to their families, saying "it's a very, very sad number of stories that we've heard."
North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims they all died or have been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists many more were taken — and that some may still be alive.
Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of Kim, belittling him as "Little Rocket Man" but suggested that it would be "a tremendous signal" if North Korea returned the captives.
But Trump's message on the second day of his five-country Asian tour was overshadowed by another tragic shooting back home.
Trump called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He later suggested that the shooter had mental health issues and waved off a question about gun control, saying of the massacre, "this isn't a guns situation."
Though Trump and Abe repeatedly touted their friendship, looming disagreements on trade could strain the friendship.
Trump complained Monday that Japan had been "winning" for decades and rebuked the current relationship, saying the trade deals were "not fair and not open." He told a group of American and Japanese business leaders: the United States was open for business, but he wanted to reshape the nations' trade relationship, though he did not say how he would cut the trade deficit with Japan, which totaled nearly $70 billion last year.
He also downplayed the potentially contentious nature of the negotiations, though the Japanese government has not shown much appetite for striking a new bilateral trade agreement. Tokyo had pushed to preserve the Trans- Pacific Partnership, which Trump has abandoned.
"We will have more trade than anybody ever thought under TPP. That I can tell you," Trump said. He said the multinational agreement was not the right deal for the United States and that while "probably some of you in this room disagree ... ultimately I'll be proven to be right."
Abe, for his part, publicly deflected questions about trade.
Trump also pushed Japan to buy more American military equipment after Abe was asked at the news conference about a local news report that Trump was disappointed that Japan had not shot North Korean missiles out of the sky.
"He will shoot 'em out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States," Trump interrupted.
Japan's constitution was revised after World War II to include a clause renouncing war and the country only spends about one percent of its GDP on defense, though Abe has slowly tried to remove some of its pacifist constraints.
Japan orchestrated a lavish formal welcome for the Trumps, complete with military honor guard and an audience with Japan's Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace.
As part of the pageantry, Trump and Abe took part in a traditional feeding of koi in a pond Monday. At first, both leaders spooned out small amounts of feed into the pond below. Abe then lightly tossed the remainder of his box into the pond below, while Trump more theatrically dumped the rest of his box down to the fish.
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