TOKYO (AP) — President Donald Trump opened his second day in Japan by pushing for stronger, more equitable economic ties between the allies, yet his message in Asia threatened to be overshadowed by a tragic shooting back home. Trump on Monday called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives “an act of evil,” denounced the violence in “a place of sacred worship” and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief “Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong.”
CORRECTS TO JAPANESE ABDUCTED BY NORTH KOREA- President Donald Trump, center, speaks as Trump and first lady Melania Trump, right, meet with the families of Japanese abducted by North Korea at the Akasaka Palace, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is at center left while his wife Akie at far left. At center rear is Koichiro Iizuka, whose mother Yaeko Taguchi was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with U.S. and Japanese Business Leaders at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe get set to stop off a platform during an honor guard ceremony at the Akasaka Palace, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, and First Lady Melania Trump, left, are welcomed by Emperor Akihito, second from right, Empress Michiko, right, upon their arrival at the Imperial Palace Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
FILE – In this Sept. 28, 2017, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, listens to Shigeo Iizuka, third from left, leader of a group of families of Japanese abducted by North Korea, during a meeting at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo. Second from left is Sakie Yokota, the mother of kidnapped daughter Megumi. Japan says North Korea abducted at least 17 of its citizens in the 1970s and ‘80s to train its spies to pass as Japanese. North Korea allowed five to visit Japan in 2002, and they stayed instead of returning to North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with some relatives of the abductees during his Tokyo visit Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool Photo via AP, File)
U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, second from left, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and his wife Akie Abe, speaks to members of the media before having dinner at Ginza Ukai Tei, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump is on a five-country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Anti-war protesters wearing cutouts of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, march after a rally demanding peace of the Korean peninsula near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Trump will arrive in South Korea on Nov. 7 for a two-day visit to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
U.S. President Donald Trump, second right, first lady Melania Trump, right, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third right, and his wife Akie Abe, third left, depart after having dinner, at Ginza Ukai Tei restaurant, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Tokyo. Trump’s first trip to Asia began with a taste of home, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed him to Japan with a display of friendship that will soon give way to high-stakes diplomacy. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Ant-war protesters hold up their cards during a rally demanding peace of the Korean peninsula near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. U.S. President Donald Trump will arrive in South Korea on Nov. 7 for a two-day visit to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this aerial image, U.S. President Donald Trump, second from right, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama, third from right in blue, play golf at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, north of Tokyo, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe are calling their golf outing a success. The two leaders played Sunday with Japanese professional Matsuyama at a championship golf course outside of Tokyo. (Kyodo News via AP)
President Donald Trump, center, waves as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and he finish playing golf at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Kawagoe, Japan. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
TOKYO (AP) — Putting a face on the threat posed by North Korea, President Donald Trump stood Monday with anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang’s agents, calling their abductions “a tremendous disgrace.”
Trump pledged to work to return the missing to their families, intensifying the pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by elevating these heart-wrenching tales of loss to the international stage in hopes of pushing Pyongyang to end its provocative behavior toward American allies in the region.
“We’ve just heard the very sad stories about family members — daughters, wives, brothers uncles, fathers – it’s a very, very sad number of stories that we’ve heard,” Trump said. “They were abducted in all cases by North Korea and we will work with Prime Minister Abe on trying to get them back to their loved ones.”
Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood with nearly two dozen relatives, some of whom held photos of the missing. North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims they all died or have been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists many more were taken — and that some may still be alive.
Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of Kim, belittling him as “Little Rocket Man” and showing no sign of easing pressure even while in the very Asian capitals threatened by Pyongyang’s missiles.
But Trump’s message on the second day of his five-country Asian tour was overshadowed by another tragic shooting back home.
Trump called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives “an act of evil,” denounced the violence in “a place of sacred worship” and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief “Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong.”
He ignored shouted questions from reporters about gun control.
North Korea has long been the critical issue looming over Trump’s trip that will include direct talks with Trump’s Chinese and Russian counterparts.
Trump and Abe, who has taken a more hawkish view on Pyongyang that some of his predecessors, voiced the same concern over the North’s victims and repeatedly touted their close relationship over two days that included a round of golf, a hamburger with American beef and a couples’ dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant.
Disagreements on trade could strain the friendship.
Trump complained Monday that Japan had been “winning” for decades and rebuked the current relationship, saying the trade deals were “not fair and not open.” He told a group of American and Japanese business leaders: the United States was open for business, but he wanted to reshape the nations’ trade relationship, though he did not say how he would cut the trade deficit with Japan, which totaled nearly $70 billion last year.
He also downplayed the potentially contentious nature of the negotiations, though the Japanese government has not shown much appetite for striking a new bilateral trade agreement. Tokyo had pushed to preserve the Trans- Pacific Partnership, which Trump has abandoned.
“We will have more trade than anybody ever thought under TPP. That I can tell you,” Trump said. He said the multinational agreement was not the right deal for the United States and that while “probably some of you in this room disagree … ultimately I’ll be proven to be right.”
The president seemed at ease in front of his CEO peers, calling out some by name, teasing that the first lady had to sell her Boeing stock once he took office and calling for Japanese automakers to make more of their cars in America, though major companies like Toyota and Nissan already build many vehicles in the United States. He promised that profits would soon rise on both sides of the Pacific once new agreements were struck.
“We’ll have to negotiate that out and it’ll be a very friendly negotiation,” Trump said, suggesting it would be done “quickly” and “easily.”
Japan orchestrated a lavish formal welcome for the Trumps, complete with military honor guard and a traditional feeding of koi in a pond. Trump first tossed handfuls of feed into the pond before quickly dumping the entire box in a move that drew laughter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson standing nearby. Trump and his wife, Melania, earlier paid a formal state call on Japan’s Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace.
In Washington, a new analysis emerged from the Pentagon saying that a ground invasion of North Korea is the only way to locate and destroy, with complete certainty, all components of Kim’s nuclear weapons program.
“It is the most bleak assessment,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Abe welcomed Trump on Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that now gives way to high-stakes diplomacy. The leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club and, giving Trump a taste of home, ate hamburgers made with American beef.
“The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other,” Trump said before dinner with Abe, who for this meal did show Trump traditional cuisine with a teppanyaki dinner. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Japan than we are right now.”
While there is worry in the region about Trump’s unpredictable response to the threat posed by Kim, Trump made clear he did not intend to tone down his bellicose rhetoric even while in an Asian capital within reach of North Korea’s missiles.
“There’s been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach,” he said aboard Air Force One.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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