US President Donald Trump touched down in Japan Sunday, kicking off the first leg of a high-stakes Asia tour set to be dominated by soaring tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Air Force One landed under clear blue skies and Trump stepped out with his wife Melania in bright sunshine to greet the crowds.
Speaking to reporters on the plane, he announced he would likely be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin during the tour, as the international community seeks a solution to the North Korean missile crisis.
“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One.
He added that North Korea was a “big problem for our country and for the world, and we want to get it solved” but had kind words for the people in the hermit state.
“I think they’re great people. They’re industrious. They’re warm, much warmer than the world really knows or understands. They’re great people. And I hope it all works out for everybody,” he said.
Trump’s marathon trip comes with the North Korea crisis at fever pitch, with US bombers running sorties over the Korean peninsula and fears mounting of another Pyongyang missile test.
The president’s first stops are Japan and South Korea — frontline US allies in the effort to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme, and the two countries with most to fear should a full-scale conflict break out.
Trump and his “friend” Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, enjoy a close personal relationship and the three-day Japan leg of the trip is noticeably relaxed, with the two leaders teeing off for a round of golf before being serenaded by wacky internet sensation Pikotaro.
On Friday, US supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers overflew the Korean peninsula, as Seoul’s spy agency reportedly warned the North might be readying another missile test.
From Seoul, Trump and his wife Melania travel to China to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping who, like Abe, has solidified his grip on power, after being handed a second term.
He then travels to an APEC summit in Vietnam before heading to a ASEAN gathering of Southeast Asian leaders.