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Abe seeks to move Japan off sidelines with Trump trip

AFP  |  Tokyo 

Japanese Shinzo heads to the US on Tuesday, hoping his carefully cultivated relations with "golf buddy" will help keep in the loop and out of danger amid a flurry of diplomacy on

During talks at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the two allies are expected to stress the need to maintain "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang, as well as thrash out bilateral trade frictions.

Few leaders have courted the US as furiously as Abe, who famously visited Trump in his gilded tower before the billionaire was even sworn in.

The two golf-mad leaders traded fist-bumps on the course and tucked into burgers and ketchup at a golf club outside during Trump's visit in November, where the pair got on so well it sparked headlines of a "bromance".

However, the recent breakneck pace of diplomacy around the nuclear crisis has left battling for relevance, even though it is arguably under the greatest threat.

Buttering up Trump "did Abe's image some good domestically for a while... but such efforts have not produced enough results if you look at things objectively," said Mieko Nakabayashi, an expert in US-relations at and former lawmaker.

North Korea's has summits scheduled with and the and has already met Chinese Xi Jinping, leaving Japan conspicuously on the sidelines, with reported overtures from towards going unanswered.

Yet it is over Japan that North Korean missiles have been flying and threats to sink the island nation "into the sea" have kept people on edge.

In Tokyo, officials deny they are out of the loop and stress they are heavily involved in diplomatic efforts to calm tensions on the Korean peninsula, coordinating closely with and

flew to for a rare visit earlier this month, hoping to get issues dear to onto the agenda of inter-Korean talks.

"For Abe, it is important to show that his strategy of sticking to Trump is producing results. In terms of process, he is out of the loop, it's very destabilising for Japan," said a diplomatic source on condition of anonymity.

"But the machine is starting up again," added the

Japan is pressing in particular for the emotive issue of nationals abducted by to be put on the table -- which many analysts see as highly unlikely.

However, Asuka Matsumoto, visiting scholar at the at in Washington, noted that Trump even mentioned the topic in his address.

"American threat perception has recently changed since a white American university student, Otto Warmbier, was arrested and severely treated in North Korea, and eventually passed away," she told AFP.

will also seek to win guarantees from Trump that his commitment to security in East remains ironclad and that there is no question of weakening the "nuclear umbrella" in place for decades.

"It's not a charm offensive but a charm defensive," Matsumoto told AFP.

In addition to North Korea, talks will also touch on trade -- another area where Abe's lobbying of Trump appears to have yielded little.

To its obvious displeasure, Japan was not on the list of countries exempt from Trump's announced tariffs on and aluminium.

Setting the tone for the trade element of the trip, Trump tweeted Friday that Japan "has hit us hard on trade for years".

In the run-up to the summit came that Trump has directed senior aides to explore rejoining the 11-nation -- which Tokyo said would be "extremely difficult".

On trade, "Trump is unlikely to be fully satisfied without an immediate, tangible win of some kind," said Scott Seaman, of the US-based

As he flies to the US, leaves behind him a host of domestic scandals that have chipped away at his normally high approval ratings. He is embroiled in twin cronyism scandals, with accusations he used his influence to get a veterinary school opened for a close friend dominating headlines in the country.

Trump too is battling on multiple domestic fronts and the US-led air strikes in threaten to overshadow Abe's visit.

The has insisted the summit will go ahead and Trump would travel to Monday, despite cancelling a trip to in order to focus on the situation in

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, April 15 2018. 08:25 IST