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Trump takes aim at foreign leaders and critics at home before heading to economic summit in Japan

President Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
President Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Hours before departing Wednesday for a global economic summit in Japan, President 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 interview, he berated China over stalled trade talks and falsely claimed that it is bearing the full brunt of U.S. tariffs imposed this year, despite the impact they also are having on Americans. “Don’t play. Don’t let anyone tell you that China’s not paying for it. China’s paying for it,” he said. “We’re not paying for any of it.”

Trump also criticized or insulted European leaders he will see at the 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 his 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 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 exclude leaders from Moscow.

And hours after that summit, Trump exploded in anger at Trudeau and announced 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, 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 percent import penalty and not the 25 percent tariff he had proposed. Trump has already imposed a 25 percent 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 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 S. Mueller III of committing a crime, revisited complaints against his 2016 political opponent Hillary Clinton and repeated unproven claims about FBI “spying” on his campaign.

Trump accuses Mueller of a crime ahead of congressional testimony

Trump also took what appeared to be another swipe at the late senator 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 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 senators 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 he is president, and he implied that National Basketball Association owners and players should treat him better because he has lowered black unemployment and supports criminal justice reform.

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 Chair Jerome H. Powell, whom Trump nominated for the job but has heavily criticized since, is motivated by his eagerness to show 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, okay? Let him show how tough he is. He’s a — he’s not doing a good job, okay, let me — let me be nice about it.

Late Wednesday while he was flying to Japan, Trump urged his supporters to follow his aides on Twitter for their commentary on the Democratic presidential debate in Miami. Trump said he had other business to attend to. “Sorry, I’m on Air Force One, off to save the Free World!” he tweeted.