Abe moves fast to meet America’s new president

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Abe moves fast to meet America’s new president

As Korean scrambles to build diplomatic links from scratch with a Donald J. Trump administration, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moved swiftly to schedule a meeting with the U.S. president-elect in New York next week.

While Korean President Park Geun-hye spoke over the phone with Trump for about 10 minutes Thursday to reaffirm his support for the U.S.-Korea alliance, Abe and Trump held a 20-minute phone conversation and agreed to meet on Nov. 17.

Abe will stop in New York en route to Lima for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Nov. 19 and 20.

Following the news of the Republican candidate’s victory, which blindsided many international observers who considered Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton a shoo-in, Seoul is reaching out to his major aides and advisers on foreign policy to forge ties.

In the months leading up to the U.S. presidential election, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs formed a task force to prepare for a possible Trump presidency. It said it will follow its road map to bolster cooperation with the president-elect’s transition team from an early stage.

“In preparation for the U.S. elections, the Foreign Ministry has preemptively worked on outreach activities toward the Trump campaign and Republicans,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, in a briefing Thursday. “And immediately after the elections, as a follow-up measure, we are systematically following a detailed action plan that we have formed in order to bolster the Korea-U.S. alliance under a new Trump administration.”

Cho added, “As the president said, we plan to forge cooperative relations between the Korean and U.S. administrations from an early state, and hold close policy talks on the Korea-U.S. alliance, North Korea nuclear issue, trade and economy, and bolster public diplomacy.”

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters, “There are things that Trump has said [on the Korea-U.S. alliance] that psychologically make us worry, but what is most important is how the Trump administration’s cabinet and foreign affairs and security team will be structured.”

In his acceptance speech Wednesday, Trump repeated his “America first” slogan and discussed foreign relations in a very general way. “We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world,” he said. “At the same time, we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.”

Democratic presidential candidate Clinton’s foreign affairs advisers included figures very familiar with Korea affairs, and she herself had been secretary of state and visited Seoul many times. Trump’s immediate team doesn’t seem to include anyone familiar with Korea.

Once considered as Trump’s running mate, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is reportedly being considered as secretary of state, as is John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Trump’s security adviser, is being named as a likely defense secretary or national security adviser. Other possible candidates to head the Pentagon are Senator Jefferson Sessions of Alabama, Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, and former Missouri Senator Jim Talent.

Walid Phares, a provost at BAU International University, one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers during the campaign, is likely to become a White House senior adviser.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in late May, Phares said that Trump is “a negotiator. He’s going to sit down, he’s going to deal with our partners.” He also said, “Everything indicates that both South Korea and Japan, and the United States on this side of the ocean, need each other,” especially against North Korea’s threats.

He added, “Mr. Trump and his team consider the South Korean people and government as allies, and they understand the historical relationship between South Korea and America.”

Edwin Feulner, former president of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, a member of Trump’s transition team, has visited Korea over 100 times since the 1970s and has acquaintances within the government and academia here.

Another figure being watched with interest is Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, whom Trump named as one of the few people that he really likes and respects. He has close ties with Korea.

Haass said in an interview on CNBC Wednesday that Trump needs to focus on dealings with China, North Korea and Iran. Haass has visited Korea numerous times and has strong ties with academia here. He is friendly with Foreign Minister Yun. The two met last month.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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