Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump leave a joint news conference in Florida in April. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tokyo denied that U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned the attack on Pearl Harbor during talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but officials are acknowledging negotiating difficulties despite the cozy relationship between the two leaders.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono openly admitted to problems dealing with the United States, especially on trade issues, when he spoke in Tokyo on Aug. 29 about the high tariffs applied by Washington to Japanese steel and other metal exports.

“While (Abe and Trump) may have a friendly relationship, it has little effect on (trade negotiations),” Kono said.

Kono’s remarks came as other officials were trying to extinguish concerns raised by an Aug. 28 Washington Post article that quoted Trump as suddenly saying, “I remember Pearl Harbor,” during a discussion on trade issues with Abe in June in Washington.

The meeting was held before Trump’s historic meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Abe tried to remind Trump about the importance to Japan of the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.

But, according to The Washington Post article, “Abe was completely ignored” by Trump when he made any reference to the abduction issue or to continuing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Aug. 29 flatly denied the comments attributed to Trump about Pearl Harbor.

In his speech in Tokyo, Kono pointed out that while personal relations were an important factor in diplomacy, they were not everything. He stressed the close ties between Abe and Trump, noting that the prime minister has held 26 phone conservations with the U.S. president, with some extending for more than an hour.

However, Kono explained that when Japanese officials were negotiating over the high tariffs imposed on Japanese metal products, their U.S. counterparts flat out rejected excluding Japan from the tariff list, unlike other important U.S. allies.

“We are placed in a corner if we are told trade issues are totally unrelated to the friendly ties between Shinzo and Trump,” Kono said.