SEOUL — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wouldn’t say Monday whether he nominated President Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating with North Korea, even though local media reports suggested that he had.
Trump said Friday that Abe had personally given him “the most beautiful copy” of a letter nominating him for the prize for opening talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But Abe wouldn’t confirm that Monday.
“The Nobel Committee for the last 50 years has not disclosed who recommended and who was recommended. In line with this policy, I would like to refrain from giving a comment,” Abe said in response to a question from an opposition lawmaker.
Pushed again to confirm or deny the report, he added: “I am not saying it’s not true.”
But Japanese media reports on Sunday suggested that Trump was telling the truth. The Nikkei newspaper, citing government sources, said Abe had sent in a nomination.
“He showed a five page-long copy of a letter of recommendation for the Nobel Peace Prize to President Trump at the past summit meeting,” it quoted a source as saying.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper cited an unnamed government source as saying the nomination came in response to an “unofficial” U.S. request, made after last year’s summit in Singapore. It said Abe made the recommendation in the fall.
Abe’s reluctance to confirm the story is understandable, as he negotiates a fine line between flattering Trump’s ego and appearing too deferential in front of his electorate. Japanese public opinion is fixated on the return of at least a dozen of the country’s citizens who it says were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Without progress on that issue, or actual progress on convincing North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons, Abe risks domestic criticism for, at best, acting prematurely by nominating Trump.
Yet Abe still took the opportunity to praise Trump in parliament Monday. “President Trump has acted decisively toward resolving the issues of the North Korean nuclear and missile problems,” he said.
Television anchor Shigenori Kanehira noted that Trump had claimed that Abe submitted the nomination on behalf of Japan. “But do you remember having asked Prime Minister Abe to do such a thing?” he asked on TBS television, in a clip that was widely shared.
Opposition lawmaker Junya Ogawa said it was “unthinkable” for Abe to have nominated a man who had pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris climate change accord and the Iran nuclear deal, started a trade war with China, moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, promoted “America First” and who wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
“It is embarrassing to the nation of Japan,” he told Abe in parliament.
In Seoul, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in was asked if the South Korean leader might have been the one to nominate Trump. The spokesman, Kim Eui-keum, said that as far as he knows, Moon hadn’t done so.
“However, President Moon has been emphasizing how President Trump has made a huge contribution to bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula through summit talks with North Korea, and how his leadership and determination played a decisive role in settling a new atmosphere of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the spokesman said.
“So it’s President Moon’s thinking that he fully deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Min Joo Kim contributed to this report.