WASHINGTON: Five days before meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, US President Donald Trump said on Thursday the unprecedented summit was “all ready to go”, as he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House.

Trump expressed unbridled optimism — and confidence — about his June 12 tete-a-tete with Kim in Singapore. “The summit is all ready to go,” Trump said, with Abe at his side. “It’s going to be much more than a photo op.” “I’m very well-prepared. It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done,” he told reporters.

Since the first inkling that a Trump-Kim summit could be on the cards, Japan has repeatedly insisted that Washington be mindful not to let its guard down with the nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang. And by coming to Washington to see Trump for the second time in less than two months, Abe wants to be sure to get his point across to the US president, amid the intense diplomatic flurry over the future of the Korean peninsula.

The Japanese leader said he hoped the summit would lead to “greater peace and stability” in the region, and mark a “transformational moment” for Northeast Asia. Before leaving Tokyo, Abe clearly outlined what would need to happen for the summit to be a success: tangible progress on curbing the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as answers about Japanese nationals kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.

During their last meeting at Trump’s Florida retreat in April, the US president promised Abe to raise the politically sensitive abductions issue in any talks with Pyongyang. But the subject is hardly a priority for the businessman-turned-president, whose strategy appears to be in constant flux.

Above all, Trump seems most enthused by the notion of being the first sitting US leader to hold direct talks with a scion of the ruling Kim dynasty.

“At a minimum, we’ll start with perhaps a good relationship and that’s something that is very important toward the ultimate making of the deal,” he added. “If they don’t denuclearise, it will not be acceptable.”

For Richard Armitage, a former senior diplomat in the George W. Bush administration, Tokyo runs a very real risk of finding itself out in the cold after the Trump-Kim talks.

“We should absolutely prevent decoupling Japanese and US security,” he said. “This is and has been an aim of China and North Korea for a long time, and we can’t allow this to happen. That would be falling into a terrible trap.”

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2018