Japan's Abe looks to make position clear at White House ahead of Trump's North Korea summit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to draw on his close ties with President Donald Trump in talks on Thursday, will urge the U.S. leader not to forget Tokyo's security concerns in his drive for a historic deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Donald Trump set to meet with Kim Jong-un next week

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Palm Beach, Fla., for a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in April. He'll be back in the U.S. this week for talks ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to draw on his close ties with President Donald Trump in talks on Thursday, will urge the U.S. leader not to forget Tokyo's security concerns in his drive for a historic deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Abe has spoken to Trump 30 times since he became president, including eight face-to-face meetings, and officials say Washington is well-aware of Tokyo's stance towards Pyongyang.

"Through summits and telephone conversations with President Trump, we have closely liaised and our positions are exactly the same," Abe told reporters before departing for Washington.

"Ahead of this historic U.S.-North Korea summit, I will meet President Trump to coordinate in order to advance progress on the nuclear issue, missiles and — most importantly – the abductees issue," he said, referring to the emotive matter of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang's agents decades ago.

"I want make the U.S.-North Korea summit a success," he added.

Japan, which relied on the U.S. for its post-World War II diplomacy and security, has been absent in the recent burst of engagement with North Korea. Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have both met Kim twice, as Abe waits his turn to raise Japan's concerns directly.

Concerns have simmered in Tokyo that Trump, his eye on November congressional elections, could cut a deal that would allow him to boast of protecting U.S. cities from nuclear attack but leave Japan vulnerable to shorter-range missiles. North Korean tests last year flew into Japan airspace on more than one occasion.

A woman in Tokyo walks past a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea's missile launch in November 2017. Japan was spooked last year by missile tests from the North that invaded their airspace. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

Japan also fears Trump could eventually agree to reduce U.S. military forces in South Korea, leaving Japan as a frontline state against a Korean peninsula under heavy Chinese influence.

That would mean "Japan's constitution, diplomatic policies and national security policies all will have to be totally reviewed for the completely new situation," Katsuyuki Kawai, a special advisor on foreign affairs to Abe, told Reuters.

"It would be a nightmare for Japan and also for the United States," he said.

Japanese abductees paramount to Abe

Trump suggested on Friday that the most tangible outcome of the June 12 summit could be the "signing of a document" to end the technical state of hostilities — 65 years after the Korean conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Trump also said he wanted to drop the term "maximum pressure" that his administration — and Japan — had used to describe an approach that combined tough economic sanctions with diplomacy and military threats from the U.S. president.

The White House said on Monday that the U.S. policy had not changed.

Japan has made clear that it will not provide economic assistance for North Korea until all three issues are resolved, including the abductees issue.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have by all accounts enjoyed a warm personal relationship, but have had significant differences in opinion on trade policy. (Japan's Cabinet Public Relations Office via Kyodo/Reuters)

Abe, who has made resolving the abductees issue a keystone of his political career, will also likely seek reassurance that Trump will keep that on his agenda with Kim Jong-un, after the president said he had not discussed human rights with North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol at the White House last week.

"I think what Mr. Abe expects is [that Trump] will at least raise this issue with Kim Jong-un when they meet," said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. Japan could seek its own summit with the North Korean leader, depending on the outcome of his meeting with Trump.

Abe's close ties with Trump have so far done little to insulate Japan from Washington's "America First" stance on trade. Trump is pressing Tokyo for a bilateral free trade agreement while Japan insists multilateral deals work best and was a critical player in salvaging the TPP deal that the U.S. president scorned.

Japanese officials declined to speculate on whether trade would join North Korea on the agenda at Thursday's talks, but White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that "trade issues and other matters" were expected to come up.

Both Abe and Trump will travel to Quebec later this week for the G7 summit.

With files from CBC News and Associated Press