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Trump presses Japan over trade gap

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US President Donald Trump, Japan's Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and first lady Melania Trump toast during a state banquet at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019.

[TOKYO] US President Donald Trump pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to even out a trade imbalance with the United States and said he was happy with how things were going with North Korea but was in no rush to reach a peace deal.

Mr Trump said at a news conference with Mr Abe after their summit that his goal was to remove trade barriers to put US exports on a fair footing in Japan. He said he hoped to have more to announce on trade very soon and said he and Mr Abe had agreed to expand cooperation in human space exploration.

"We have an unbelievably large imbalance, as you know, trade imbalance with Japan for many, many years, Japan having the big advantage," Mr Trump said.

"They are brilliant business people, brilliant negotiators, and put us in a very tough spot. But I think we will have a deal with Japan," he added.

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Mr Abe, for his part, said the two leaders had agreed to speed up two-way trade talks, but dodged a question about timing.

Mr Trump, who is on a four-day state visit to Japan meant to showcase the alliance between the allies, said on Twitter on Sunday that he expected big moves on trade would wait until after Japan's upper house election in July.

"Trade-wise, I think we'll be announcing some things, probably in August, that will be very good for both countries," Mr Trump said on Monday at the start of the talks. "We'll get the balance of trade, I think, straightened out rapidly."

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters there was no agreement to reach a trade deal by August.

Mr Abe, who has developed a warm relationship with Trump since the U.S. leader came to office, stressed the closeness of ties.

"This visit of President Trump and Madame Trump is a golden opportunity to clearly show the unshakable bond to the whole world and inside Japan as well," Mr Abe told the news conference.

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

Mr Trump is the first foreign dignitary to be received by the monarch since the latter inherited the throne after his father, Akihito, stepped down on April 30 in the first abdication by a Japanese emperor in two centuries.

Mr Trump has made clear he was pleased to have the honour of the first reception with the emperor, who will host a state dinner for the US leader and his wife on Monday.

REUTERS