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Japan PM not ruling out bilateral free trade pact with U.S.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday did not rule out
negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States,
a framework preferred by U.S. President Donald Trump but viewed with
alarm by Japan due to its perceived risks.

"I am not afraid of an FTA. It will be good if it contributes to
national interests. If it does not, it is clear that Japan will not
proceed with negotiations" on a bilateral free trade pact, Abe told a
parliamentary session.

Abe made the comments following a summit with Trump in
Washington on Friday, where they agreed to launch high-level economic
dialogue including possibly discussing a bilateral trade framework.

Trump withdrew the United States from the 12-nation
Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal last month, saying he prefers
bilateral trade deals to multilateral pacts like the TPP. Japan has
been strongly pushing the TPP.

Analysts predict that, compared to trade negotiations involving
multiple nations, Japan may find itself facing harsher demands from
the United States in bilateral talks.

Abe also said in the House of Representatives Budget Committee
session that he seeks to build strong personal ties with Trump, even
as the U.S. leader faces criticisms at home and abroad for such
policies as his executive order freezing the U.S. refugee program and
barring entry to the United States for anyone from seven
Muslim-majority countries. That order has been suspended by a U.S.
court.

"Given Japan's position, and as prime minister, I have no choice
but to firmly build a close relationship with Mr. Trump and
demonstrate that to the world," Abe said.

Abe said the summit meeting with Trump met his initial goals as
the two leaders reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the defense of
Japan.

"It was ground-breaking and extremely significant" that the
joint press statement issued following the summit for the first time
noted the two countries' cooperation in the East China Sea, where the
Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands are located. China disputes
Japan's ownership of the uninhabited islands, which it calls the
Diaoyu.

Abe also said he will no longer have to confirm with the United
States time and again whether the Senakakus are covered by Article 5
of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, which obliges the United States to
protect Japan if it comes under armed attack, as the joint statement
clearly stated it for the first time.

Abe noted that President Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor,
mentioned the Senkakus falling under Article 5 only orally and never
in joint statements.

"The most important goal (at the summit with Trump) was to show
to the people at home and abroad that the U.S. president would make
an important decision for Japan in the event Japanese territorial
land or sea were violated," Abe said. (Feb. 14)