Trump Offers Praise for Abe as Leaders Plan Call for Next Week

U.S. President Donald Trump offered praise on Friday for outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and both leaders may speak by phone next week.

Abe is arranging to talk with Trump on Monday, and plans to convey directly his plans to step down as prime minister as well as stress the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance under a new leader, Kyodo reported. Abe’s resignation will draw to an end a close relationship with Trump where the two have stood together on security issues and battled on trade.

“I want to pay my highest respect to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a very — a great friend of mine,” Trump said Friday evening aboard Air Force One after a campaign event in New Hampshire. “We had a great relationship, and I just feel very badly about it because it must be very severe.”

Abe said Friday in Tokyo he would resign after his health worsened in recent months due to a chronic illness. The announcement, which surprised some even in his own party, will end an almost eight-year term as the country’s longest serving premier. Abe will stay on until his successor is chosen by an internal party vote, which will likely be held Sept. 15, Kyodo reported earlier.

Read More: Abe’s Successor Unlikely to Push for Big Changes in Japan

In 2016, Abe became the first leader of a major nation to court Trump following his election as U.S. president — working to maintain personal ties through golf games and hamburger lunches, despite differences of opinion on subjects ranging from trade to climate change.

Those efforts were called into question when Japan came under threat of punitive U.S. auto tariffs, forcing Abe to agree to a bilateral trade deal that opponents criticized as giving away too much. Trump later called on Japan to quadruple what it pays to support U.S. troops in Japan.

— With assistance by Jon Herskovitz

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