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Japan, U.S. eye Abe-Trump talks on Feb. 10, trade likely atop agenda

The Japanese and U.S. governments are arranging a summit between
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump in Washington
around Feb. 10, a diplomatic source said Thursday.

The two leaders are expected to discuss trade issues following
Trump's issuing of an executive order Monday to pull the United
States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-party free trade
pact Abe has hailed as having both economic benefits and strategic
importance.

The meeting would be their first since Trump's inauguration last
week. Abe and Trump held an unofficial meeting in New York in
November last year shortly after Trump's election victory.

In dumping the TPP, Trump has said he wants to focus on
negotiating bilateral trade deals instead. Speaking in the Diet
Thursday, Abe appeared to signal openness to working out a Japan-U.S.
free trade agreement or economic partnership agreement.

"We will appeal (to the U.S. administration) on the TPP, but
that doesn't mean we absolutely can't also (sign) an EPA or FTA, as
we did with (fellow TPP signatory) Australia," Abe said.

Abe also suggested Japan would advocate retaining some form of
tariffs on rice and four other key agricultural products in any trade
negotiations with the United States.

"We will thoroughly protect what we should protect...I want to
carry out bilateral negotiations properly, based on the thinking that
agriculture is the foundation of this country," he said at a meeting
of the House of Representatives' Budget Committee.

The Japan-U.S. security alliance is also likely to be high on
the agenda in a bilateral summit. During his election campaign, Trump
said Japan and other U.S. allies should pay a greater share of the
costs for stationing U.S. forces overseas.

Abe is also likely to seek confirmation that Trump maintains
certain positions held by his predecessor Barack Obama when it comes
to regional issues, particularly the situation in the East and South
China seas, where China's expansionary activities have raised concern.

He indicated Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is also finance
minister, will go with him to Washington and meet U.S. Vice President
Mike Pence.

"(During the Obama presidency) we had a thick pipeline between
(former Vice President Joe) Biden and Aso, and I want there to be
opportunities for contact with Mr. Pence, including when I visit the
United States," Abe said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the governments are
taking the demands of Japan's ongoing parliamentary session into
consideration as they set a final date for the summit.

The top government spokesman also welcomed the Pentagon's
announcement the previous day that U.S. Defense Secretary James
Mattis will visit Japan on Feb. 3-4 following a trip to South Korea
from Feb. 1.

"The Japan-U.S. alliance plays an essential role as the basis of
peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, where the security
environment is intensifying," Suga said.

He indicated Defense Minister Tomomi Inada will explain to
Mattis that Japan is already appropriately shouldering its share of
the burden for the Japan-U.S. alliance if the issue comes up in their
talks in Japan. (Jan. 26)