TOKYO – U.S. President Donald Trump last year urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to act as a mediator between the United States and Iran amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, even though he did not expect the Japanese leader to succeed in the mission, former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in his memoir published Tuesday.
It later emerged, Bolton said, that Trump was using his relationship with Abe to press for a boost in farm exports to Japan.
In the hope of brokering dialogue between the two foes, Abe made the trip to Iran in June 2019, becoming the first sitting Japanese prime minister to do so since 1978. But the mission ended in failure and he was embarrassed after two tankers, one operated by a Japanese company, were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz during his stay.
After the trip, Trump told Abe over the phone that he should not feel guilty that he had totally failed, Bolton recalled, while noting that Trump had not expected the Japanese leader to succeed in the mission and he was not surprised at all at the result.
“He turned to what was really on his mind, saying he really appreciated the effort, but that it was really much more important to him personally that Japan buy more U.S. farm products,” Bolton said.
Trump, who has been eager to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, pressed Abe that the sooner he could do it the better, “like immediately.” The two leaders in September reached a bilateral trade agreement designed to cut tariffs on farm and industrial products.
Bolton initially did not know Trump had asked Abe to get involved between the United States and Iran, a request which the Japanese premier took “seriously.”
“It was clear to me that Trump was pushing Abe into a public role that could only end in failure,” Bolton said in his White House memoir “The Room Where It Happened.”
The 71-year-old Bolton, known as a hardliner on Iran and North Korea, served as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, when he was ousted by the president over disagreements on policy issues.
In the book, Bolton also said Trump’s “best personal relationship among world leaders was with Abe” both as “golf buddies as well as colleagues.” But he noted that when Boris Johnson became the British prime minister last year, “it became a tie.”
Trump loved mentioning Abe’s father Shintaro Abe, who volunteered to serve as a World War II kamikaze suicide mission pilot before becoming one of the country’s top politicians. Trump used the episode to show how tough the Japanese people were in generally, and how tough Abe was in particular, according to Bolton.
Shinzo Abe’s name appears more than 100 times in the 578-page memoir, with Bolton saying that they knew each other for over 15 years.
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