[TOKYO] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined to say whether he nominated Donald Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize, after the US president credited the Japanese leader with doing so.
Mr Abe, who has worked hard to build a personal rapport with Mr Trump, walked a fine line during a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday while responding to Mr Trump's remark Friday.
"I am not saying it's not true," he told an opposition lawmaker, adding that the Nobel committee doesn't reveal nominations and he would refrain from commenting.
Mr Abe praised Mr Trump for his diplomacy with North Korean and helping to protect Japan, which relies on the US military for defence. "President Trump has acted decisively towards resolving the issues of the North Korean nuclear and missile problems," Mr Abe said.
Mr Abe was one of the first world leaders to embrace Mr Trump after the 2016 presidential election. Even though surveys in Japan show high public disapproval of Mr Trump, there has been no major backlash to Mr Trump potentially visiting Japan this year, while such visits have touched off protests in places such as the UK.
Mr Abe's efforts to build one-on-one ties with Mr Trump have shown their limits. Japan was forced to accept bilateral trade talks with the US after Mr Trump threatened tariffs on its vital auto industry. The US Commerce Department was expected to deliver a report as early as this week on the security risk posed by auto imports.
In a speech on border security in the White House's Rose Garden on Friday, Mr Trump said Mr Abe had shown him a copy of a five-page letter he sent to "the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize". The president was responding to a question on progress made since last year's historic summit with North Korea.
Mr Trump is planning to have a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on Feb 27 and 28 after an unprecedented summit last year. Their June meeting in Singapore led to a joint statement on North Korea's denuclearisation but the words were met by no concrete steps to roll back Pyongyang's atomic ambitions.
The Hanoi meeting brings both the promise of a less-dangerous North Korea and the potential peril of a weak deal that leaves Japan exposed to Kim's weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Abe said Mr Trump raised Japan's concerns about its citizen's abducted decades ago by North Korea when he met Mr Kim. Mr Abe told Parliament he will do everything possible to work with Mr Trump to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile problems as well as the abduction issue.