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*-- Trump, Abe talk defense, trade in U.S.-Japan alliance --*

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House on Friday, where the two leaders pledged commitments to develop a mutually beneficial diplomatic relationship.

Abe has visited the United States several times in recent months, but Friday's was his first trip to the White House since Trump's inauguration.

"I welcome you to the very famous White House," Trump said in his opening remarks. "You honor us with your presence. This is one of our earliest visits with a foreign leader. And I'm truly glad that it could be from such an important and steadfast ally."

Abe visited Pearl Harbor with former President Barack Obama in December to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack, and met with President-elect Trump in New York City a few weeks earlier.

"This is the fourth time in six months for me to visit the United States," the Japanese leader said. "I am sincerely grateful for the always heartwarming welcome."

Trump noted that mutual defense will be an important element of the U.S.-Japan relationship under his administration.

"It is very important that Japan and the United States continue to invest very heavily in the alliance to build up our defense and our defensive capabilities -- which, under our mutual leadership, will become stronger and stronger and as time goes by they will ultimately be impenetrable," he said, noting that the countries must guard against "the North Korean missile and nuclear threat -- both of which i consider a very, very high priority."

Like Trump, Abe praised the leaders' positive relationship and called the United States "the champion of democracy."

The Japanese PM was asked about the former Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Trump withdrew from immediately after taking office.

"We are fully aware of President Trump's decision ... I am quit optimistic that good results will be seen from [economic] dialogue," Abe said.


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