Trump speaks during a joint press conference at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Monday. Brendan Smialowski/ AFP
President Donald Trump said on Monday the United States was not seeking “regime change” in Iran despite mounting tensions, in dovish comments also praising North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un as a “very smart guy.”
Speaking after summit talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump seemed at pains to dial down tensions in the world’s two most pressing flashpoints as the US faces increasingly bellicose regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang.
“We’re not looking for regime change, I just want to make that clear, we’re looking for no nuclear weapons,” Trump said in relation to Iran, adding that he was “not looking to hurt” Tehran and believes the two sides could come to a deal.
He had earlier opened the door to negotiations with the regime in Tehran, saying: “if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also.”
Washington has decided to deploy 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East amid growing friction with Tehran after Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and later re-instated tough sanctions.
But Trump appeared to give backing to his host Abe to mediate, amid reports the Japanese prime minister is considering a trip to Tehran to negotiate.
“I know for a fact that the prime minister (Abe) is very close with the leadership of Iran... nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me,” Trump said before the summit with Abe.
Tremendous economic potential
Addressing the other hot-button issue in international diplomacy, Trump doubled down on his backing for Kim despite two short-range missile tests that sparked renewed concern in the region after a period of relative calm.
Asked about the missile tests, Trump said: “My people think it could have been a violation... I view it as a man who perhaps wants to get attention.”
This appeared to be a reference to his hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton, who said on Saturday that the launches contravened UN Security Council resolutions.
Kim “is looking to create a nation that has great strength economically,” said Trump, reiterating his view there was “tremendous economic potential” in North Korea.
“He knows that with nuclear... only bad can happen. He is a very smart man, he gets it well,” said the president, who even sided with the North Korean leader in criticising Joe Biden, who could be his main rival in next year’s presidential election.
“Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record, I think I agree with him on that,” said the president.
Trump was in Japan as the first foreign leader to visit the country’s newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito, which he described as a “great honour.”
In the morning, Trump, dressed in a dark suit and red tie, reviewed the Japanese honour guard and greeted dozens of Japanese and visiting US officials as a military band played.
Naruhito, wearing a light blue tie, and his wife Empress Masako, who was in a white hat and jacket, accompanied Trump and his wife Melania, who wore a summery white dress and tall red high heels.
Monday marked the start of the official programme for the two leaders after a fun-filled weekend of sumo, golf and meals out. Trump said on Sunday he was having a “great time” with his friend and close ally Abe.
Abe was hoping that their diplomatic bromance would act to his advantage in delicate trade talks between the world’s number one and number three economies.
And this seemed to have had some effect, with Trump saying that “much” of that deal would wait until Abe faces upper house elections likely in July -- as rumours swirl that the popular prime minister will combine that vote with a snap general election.
Top Japanese and American trade negotiators spent more than two hours locked in talks on Saturday night but failed to achieve a breakthrough, although the Japanese side said there was more “understanding” between the two.
On the even tougher trade negotiations with China, Trump suggested there was a chance for a “very good deal” with China but also noted the US was taking in “tens of millions in tariffs.”
In the evening, Trump and his wife Melania will be back at the palace for a banquet.
That will mark the lavish high point in a Japan visit laden with feel-good moments aimed at celebrating US-Japanese ties at a time of growing regional uncertainty due to US trade policies, a rising China and nuclear-armed North Korea.
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