Japan opposes any withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula in exchange for North Korea's denuclearization, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview with the Financial Times published Monday.
"It is my understanding that there is no such idea in the minds of the U.S. side nor in the mind of President (Donald) Trump," the British newspaper quoted the premier as saying.
He made the comments as Washington and Pyongyang are considering a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following their historic meeting in June.
Slightly less than 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a significant portion of the country's military presence in Asia. If the contingent were to be downsized, it would put a large burden on the 47,000 U.S. troops currently in Japan as well as the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
On track to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister after winning his Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election last month, Abe is looking to use his final three years to achieve his long-sought goal of amending the pacifist Constitution to clarify the legality of the SDF.
The 64-year-old said in the interview that he was aware of the political risks of initiating the public referendum that would be necessary for Constitutional reform.
"I am aware of the British example, I am aware of the Italian example," he said, referring to votes in the two countries that led to the resignations of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Cameron had said he would remain as prime minister and implement the result of the referendum on membership of the European Union in June 2016, but resigned the following day after the United Kingdom voted to leave. Renzi quit in December 2016 after the Italian public rejected his constitutional reform plans in a national referendum.
"Of course, there are several risks in politics," Abe said.
On the subject of trade, Abe said Japan is not asking the United States for reciprocal tariff reductions in recently started negotiations on a bilateral trade deal.
"I don't feel there are excessive tariffs in so many sectors when it comes to trade between Japan and the United States," he said.
Trump is seeking to reduce his country's trade deficit with Japan but has promised to shelve his threat of additional automobile tariffs while the negotiations continue.
Abe also stressed that Trump assured him Washington would not push for greater access for agricultural products than Japan has given in other trade deals.