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North Korea And Trade Dominate Trump-Abe Meeting

Apr 18, 2018
Originally published on April 18, 2018 6:18 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump is in Florida today. He's meeting there with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to conduct the first part of their meeting on the golf course and then head to Trump's personal resort for more formal discussions on trade and on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He's with us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So the president has now revealed that his administration is already holding high-level talks with the government of North Korea. What do we know about those talks?

HORSLEY: The president has now confirmed a story first reported by The Washington Post that he secretly dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with Kim Jong Un in preparation for a possible summit between Trump and Kim in early June or maybe even a little bit sooner than that. It would be the first such meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president. Trump said yesterday he feels good about the prospects for such a summit meeting, but he also cautioned it might not happen.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have had direct talks at very high levels - extremely high levels - with North Korea. And I really believe there's a lot of goodwill. A lot of good things are happening. We'll see what happens. As I always say, we'll see what happens.

HORSLEY: In a tweet this morning, the president said the meeting between Pompeo and Kim went smoothly and that a good relationship was formed. But Japan's prime minister is nervous that Trump might agree to something that's less than a full dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program. And so one of the things Abe is underscoring in these talks this week is that that still has to be the objective.

KING: And in these talks this week, North Korea is not the only thing on the agenda, right? There's another big issue, which is trade. Japan isn't all too thrilled about these tariffs on steel that President Trump has imposed.

HORSLEY: No, not thrilled at all. Those tariffs raise the price of Japan's steel in the U.S. by about 25 percent. And unlike a lot of other big steel producers, such as Canada and South Korea, Japan has not been granted an exemption. That may be a way for President Trump to try to pressure Tokyo into some bilateral trade talks. But Abe's made it clear he's not interested in that. And President Trump yesterday sort of put the nail in the coffin of any idea that he might re-enter the big 12 nation - or now 11 nation - trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

KING: After having suggested initially that he might. All right, Scott. We are bouncing around the world a little bit now. But I want to talk about Russia because we were expecting the administration to slap new sanctions on Russia. And then yesterday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow kind of walked that back.

HORSLEY: Well, even before that, the administration sort of walked it back. On Sunday, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley had said on television that the U.S. was about to slap new sanctions on Russia. On Monday, the White House said we're considering that, but we're not ready to do it. Yesterday - economic adviser Larry Kudlow was asked about that at a briefing here in Florida yesterday. And he suggested it was Haley who misspoke.

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LARRY KUDLOW: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.

HORSLEY: Nikki Haley was not about to take the fall for this back-and-forth in the administration. In a statement to Fox News yesterday, she said, with all due respect, I don't get confused. Then it was Larry Kudlow's turn to apologize. He contacted The New York Times, said he was wrong to have blamed Haley, acknowledged that, in fact, the policy, the administration, had sort of changed and that Haley had been left out there hanging. Noel, all of this just illustrates once again how difficult it is for the people within this administration to try to act as a spokesperson for a president who has difficulty maintaining a consistent position.

KING: Scott, lastly, the president and the first lady are offering their thoughts and prayers to the Bush family. Former first lady Barbara Bush died yesterday at age 92. What is the Trump family saying?

HORSLEY: You know, this is interesting, Noel, because if you go back to the 2016 primaries, Barbara Bush was quite critical of Donald Trump. She said she didn't know how women could vote for him. Of course, her son Jeb was running against him at the time. But President Trump has ordered flags on federal buildings lowered to half-staff in Barbara Bush's honor. He says she'll long be remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which he says she served unfailingly well. And Melania Trump issued a separate statement calling Barbara Bush a woman of strength who will always be remembered for her most important roles of wife, mother and first lady.

KING: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.