Japan's Abe first leader to sound out Trump

AFP , Thursday 17 Nov 2016

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak following bilateral talks at the latter's official residence in Tokyo on November 16, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

Japan's Shinzo Abe was Thursday to become the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his shock election win, possibly offering clues on the next US president's worldview as he shapes his cabinet.

The Japanese prime minister flew into New York to chat with the billionaire at his Manhattan skyscraper, where a steady stream of operatives from his Republican Party and potential cabinet members entered for another day.

Abe, a defense hawk who is in a strong political position at home, was likely to sound out Trump on issues from Asian security to trade.

Japan is one of the closest US allies but Trump alarmed Tokyo policymakers during the campaign by musing about pulling the thousands of US troops from the region and suggesting that officially pacifist Japan may need nuclear weapons.

Trump also vowed during the election to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed vast trade pact backed by outgoing President Barack Obama and which Abe had considered a top foreign policy priority.

Trump's former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Trump and incoming vice president Mike Pence looked forward to meeting the Japanese leader but said substantive discussions would wait until after Obama leaves office.

"Any deeper conversations about policy and the relationship between Japan and the United States will have to wait until after the inauguration," Conway told CBS television.

Trump, a brash tycoon who had little support from the Republican establishment, was also meeting 93-year-old Henry Kissinger, the apostle of realpolitik and foreign policy guru to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Trump will be the first US president since Dwight Eisenhower without experience in elective office and has faced early criticism for not going through the usual State Department channels for his first conversations with foreign leaders.

Adding to the slew of positions that Trump will need to fill, the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, confirmed in an appearance before Congress that he would step down soon after Trump is inaugurated on January 20.

Trump was due to meet Thursday with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as CNN and MSNBC reported that she was under consideration for secretary of state.

If chosen, Haley would be the highest-ranking Indian American in US history, following a campaign in which Trump vowed a harsh line on immigration and described undocumented Mexicans as "rapists."

News outlets previously suggested that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was tipped for the job of top diplomat.

Giuliani has been a vociferous defender of Trump but the 72-year-old would likely face a tough confirmation fight in the Senate due to a number of potential conflicts of interest, including his past lobbying for Venezuela's state oil company.

Retired general Michael Flynn, one of the few foreign policy experts who strongly supported Trump, also was seen entering Trump Tower amid reports he is under consideration for national security adviser -- a vital White House role that does not require Senate confirmation.

Transition officials said Trump would head Friday for meetings at his exclusive golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The location would offer more seclusion and comes amid complaints by New Yorkers about the traffic closings and congestion in front of Trump Tower, situated on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

Trump has already drawn outrage by appointing anti-establishment firebrand Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist.

Bannon, who has led the right-wing Breitbart website and played a key role in Trump's campaign, has been outspoken in pushing white identity politics.

At least 169 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that Trump remove Bannon, saying his appointment "directly undermines your ability to unite the country."

Obama, meanwhile, was concluding his final trip to Europe as president where he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen by many as taking the torch as the world's champion of liberal democracy after Trump's election.

In a joint article, Obama and Merkel appealed for ongoing cooperation on the basis of shared principles to fight climate change, ensure collective defense within the NATO alliance and promote free trade.

But Merkel admitted that a trade deal between the European Union and the United States would not be concluded in the wake of the US election.

In her first appearance since her stunning loss to Trump, Hillary Clinton told a benefit event in Washington that although many were "deeply disappointed" by the election result, it was important to continue working for the greater good.

"Over the past week a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it," she said as she was honored by the Children's Defense Fund.

"I urge you: please don't give up on the values we share... Even if it may not seem like it right now, there is common ground to build on."

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