Trump said he then thanked Abe but added that he did not expect to win the prize.
The president’s comments caught many observers by surprise. A Japanese nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize was not announced, and though Abe has formed a strong personal bond with Trump, the two leaders have often been at odds over Trump’s outreach to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
This is also reflected in polls of the Japanese public: One poll conducted shortly before Trump met with Kim in Singapore to discuss denuclearization last June, found that 83 percent of the Japanese public were not convinced North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons.
Neither the White House or the Japanese Embassy in Washington responded immediately to a request for more information about Trump’s comments.
There are hundreds of Nobel nominations each year. There are 304 candidates for this year’s prize, according to the committee. The names of the nominees and their sponsors are kept secret for 50 years.
The bare details of Trump’s comments led some to note that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has spoken in the past of how he felt Trump should win a Nobel for his negotiations with North Korea’s Kim.
“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize,” Moon said last April. It is unclear if the South Korean leader actually wrote a letter to the Nobel committee in Oslo, however. (A representative of the South Korean Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment).
Polls have shown South Koreans are largely positive about Trump’s talks with North Korea, though many argue that it is Moon rather than the U.S. president who is leading talks.
Some analysts speculated that Trump had indeed mistaken Abe for Moon. However, some noted that Abe has repeatedly shown that he values his relationship with the U.S. president. “A pretty deft move to use on a man who has repeatedly proven receptive to flattery,” Mintaro Oba, a former State Department staffer who now works for West Wing Writers, wrote on Twitter.
Though they are neighbors and both allies of the United States, South Korea and Japan have had a fraught relationship in recent months.
“The relationship between South Korea and Japan is suffering a compound fracture unprecedented in the five decades since the two countries established diplomatic relations,” Shin Kak-soo, a former South Korean ambassador to Japan, recently told The Washington Post.
“The Trump administration did not pay attention to the alliance,” Shin added.