President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make statements about North Korea at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday, Feb. 11. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

North Korean missile launch is Trump’s latest test

By JILL COLVIN , Associated Press

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Embroiled in a legal battle over his immigration order, President Donald Trump now faces a new provocation in the first weeks of his presidency.

After a stormy start on the diplomacy front, Trump was trying a more traditional approach of closely cultivating a relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. That approach was quickly tested Saturday night with word of a reported missile launch by North Korea.

The firing of a ballistic missile would be North Korea’s first such test of the year and an implicit challenge to Trump, who stood with Abe at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida who stood with Abe at his Mar-a-Lago Club in south Florida and said he stood by Japan “100 percent.”

The provocation comes as the White House continues to weigh its options following a legal blow to Trump’s immigration order suspending the nation’s refugee program and barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

Seeming to double down on its approach, the White House is dispatching chief policy adviser Stephen Miller, who helped craft the order, on a Sunday show blitz. He’s set to appear on ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’ “Face the Nation” and “Fox News Sunday.”

While the administration maintains that all options are on the table — Including a Supreme Court appeal — Trump said on the plane ride down to Florida for the weekend that he was considering signing a “brand new order” as early as Monday to try to bypass the legal challenges.

Trump’s trip to Mar-a-Lago had begun as a bonding session for Trump and Abe.

For most of the day Saturday, Trump and the Japanese prime minister played golf under the Florida sun to get to know one another and show the world the U.S.-Japan alliance remained strong. Then events half-a-world away provided a more significant example of cooperation.

After North Korea reportedly launched a ballistic missile, the two leaders appeared for hastily prepared statements in a ballroom of Trump’s south Florida estate. Abe spoke first and longest.

“North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable,” Abe said through a translator. He added that the North must comply fully with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, but also noted that Trump had assured him that the U.S. supported Japan.

“President Trump and I myself completely share the view that we are going to promote further cooperation between the two nations. And also we are going to further reinforce our alliance,” he said.

Trump followed Abe with even fewer words, saying in part: “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.” With that, they left the room, a surprise of sorts given that the usually outspoken Trump neither condemned nor denounced the launch.

In the opening days of his presidency, Trump’s diplomacy had a rocky stretch that included contentious phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. In contrast, the first visit by a foreign leader at his Mar-a-Lago estate was a friendly weekend of meetings, dinners and golf that suggested the new president was willing to invest time in developing close personal relationships with leaders he feels he can work with.

Trump and Abe, both frequent golfers, left Mar-a-Lago early Saturday morning and headed north to one of Trump’s golf courses in Jupiter, Florida. Reporters and photographers from both countries did not catch a glimpse of the pair as they played. But Trump later posted a photo of them giving each other a high-five on the golf course and tweeted, “Having a great time hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the United States!”

In a sign of unity, neither Japanese nor White House officials volunteered the pair’s final score. Instead, the White House issued a statement saying the day was “both relaxing and productive” and that Trump and Abe had “had great conversations on a wide range of subjects.”

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