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As he heads to Japan, Trump complains of lopsided military obligations

President Donald Trump speaks as Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, listens during a news conference at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on May 27.

KIYOSHI OTA/BLOOMBERG

By ANNE GEARAN, DAMIAN PALETTA AND JOHN WAGNER | The Washington Post | Published: June 26, 2019

WASHINGTON — Hours before departing Wednesday for a global economic summit in Japan, President Donald Trump complained about the military alliance between the two countries, criticized world leaders he will see at the gathering and unloaded on a list of domestic political foes, including a star of the U.S. women's soccer team.

Trump's comments during a wide-ranging Fox Business interview and on Twitter came as he prepared to discuss a range of pressing issues at the two-day Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, including trade disagreements, escalating tensions in the Middle East and the stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

"If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III," Trump said on Fox Business. "We will go in, and we will protect them, and we will fight with our lives and with our treasure. We will fight at all costs. But if we're attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us at all. They should watch it on a Sony television, the attack."

In the same interview, Trump berated China over stalled trade talks and falsely said China is bearing the full brunt of U.S. tariffs imposed this year, despite the effect they are having on U.S. consumers.

"Don't play. Don't let anyone tell you that China's not paying for it. China's paying for it," Trump said. "We're not paying for any of it."

Trump also criticized or insulted European leaders he will see at the Japan meeting, renewed a tariff threat against Europe, denounced his handpicked Federal Reserve chairman and complained that Vietnam is "almost the single worst abuser of everybody."

"Almost all countries in this world take tremendous advantage of the United States," he said. "It's unbelievable."

The comments fit with Trump's habit of criticizing or mischaracterizing his counterparts before global summits, remarks that often put U.S. allies on edge and scramble the potential for progress.

Trump dislikes set-piece group sessions such as the G-20, whose chief value is often symbolic, and he frequently uses them to make vague and often inaccurate complaints that other nations take advantage of the United States in trade and defense.

Just hours before the Group of Seven summit in Canada last June, Trump attacked Canadian leader Justin Trudeau and French leader Emmanuel Macron and suggested that Russia should be invited to the exclusive forum, which was designed in part to specifically exclude leaders from Moscow.

And hours after that summit, Trump exploded in anger at Trudeau and announced that he was withdrawing from a joint statement with the other countries.

Trump's comments Wednesday on Japanese defense refer to a treaty signed more than 60 years ago that forms the foundation of a post-World War II alliance.

Bloomberg reported this week that Trump had recently mused to confidants about withdrawing from the treaty, citing people familiar with the matter. Administration officials consider such a move highly unlikely.

Trump is set to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while in Osaka, and his comments about the military agreement could add a bit of awkwardness.

He is also expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the gathering, and to hold a similar separate meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump said on Fox News that if he does not cut a deal with Xi, he plans to proceed with tariffs on even more Chinese imports to the United States. Trump has tried to use the threat of tariffs as a way to force foreign leaders to make concessions on trade deals.

But for the first time Wednesday, Trump said he would seek a 10% import penalty and not the 25% tariff he had proposed. Trump has already imposed a 25% tariff on $250 billion in Chinese imports. He has threatened to penalize an additional $300 billion, though in the Fox News interview he said he would penalize an additional $600 billion in imports. It is unclear where he got that figure, though he could have been adding together the entire universe of goods annually imported to the United States from China.

Trump will visit South Korea on the trip and is widely expected to use the stop to visit the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea.

The president had planned a secret visit to the heavily fortified border zone in 2017, in the midst of his escalating war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but it was canceled because of poor weather.

As he left the White House on Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he would meet with "a lot of other people" while in Asia. While no third summit with Kim is contemplated on this trip, Trump said the two, who now claim a warm mutual understanding, might meet in a "different form."

Elsewhere during the hours leading up to his departure for the economic summit, Trump without evidence accused former special counsel Robert Mueller of committing a crime, revisited complaints against his 2016 political opponent Hillary Clinton and repeated unproven claims about FBI "spying" on his campaign.

Trump also took what appeared to be another swipe at the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., telling a crowd in Washington that senators who had given him a "hard time" have "gone on to greener pastures - or perhaps far less green pastures."

"We had a little hard time with a couple of them, right?" Trump said of Republican senators who voted against him on repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. "Fortunately they're gone now," he said in campaign-style remarks to a largely evangelical Christian audience at the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

McCain died of brain cancer last year. The other two Republicans who defied Trump's wishes on the health care vote, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, remain in office.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley in a statement denied Trump was referring to McCain and said he was targeting former Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Both voted to repeal Obamacare.

Trump also criticized U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who said she would not accept an invitation to visit the White House while Trump is president, and he implied that NBA team owners and players should treat him better because he has lowered black unemployment and supports criminal-justice legislation.

Rapinoe "should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

"We haven't yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose," Trump wrote. "Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!"

Trump also used the Fox interview to complain that the Fed is not lowering interest rates, which remain near historic lows, saying it is putting the United States at a disadvantage against other countries. He suggested Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, whom Trump nominated for the job but has heavily criticized since, is motivated by his eagerness to show that he won't be bullied by him.

"Now he's trying to prove how tough he is, because he's not going to get pushed around," the president said. "Here's a guy - nobody ever heard of him before, and now I made him and he wants to show how tough he is, OK? Let him show how tough he is. He's a - he's not doing a good job, OK, let me - let me be nice about it."

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