TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined Monday to say if he had nominated President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, though he also emphasized he did not deny doing so.
Trump’s assertion Friday that Abe had nominated him for the honor and sent him a copy of the letter has raised criticism in Japan.
Questioned in parliament about reports he had done so, Abe said: “In light of the Nobel Committee’s policy of not disclosing recommenders and nominees for 50 years, I decline to comment.”
However, neither the prime minister nor his spokesman denied Trump’s comment.
“I never said I didn’t” nominate him, Abe said in a response to a follow up question by Yuichiro Tamaki, a lawmaker for the opposition Democratic Party for the People.
Tamaki said in a tweet Monday that given the lack of progress on various issues with North Korea that he was concerned such a nomination would “send the wrong message to North Korea and the rest of international society.”
In responding to Tamaki’s questions in parliament, Abe praised Trump, saying he “has been decisively responding toward resolving North Korea’s nuclear and missile problems, and last year he held historic US-North Korea summit talks.”
Abe added that Trump had also passed on to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Japan’s own concerns about abductions of Japanese citizens by Pyongyang, saying “he and the entire White House also actively cooperated in resolving the issue.
“I highly praise President Trump’s leadership,” Abe said.
Trump’s claim that Abe had sent him a “beautiful copy” of a letter sent to the Nobel committee could not be immediately verified.
The government’s top spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, echoed Abe’s remarks in refusing further comment.
The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported on Sunday, citing unnamed government sources, that Abe had nominated Trump’s at the president’s request.
Former President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, his first year in office, for laying out the US commitment to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Trump complained Friday that Obama was there “for about 15 seconds” before he was awarded the prize.
The deadline each year for nominations is midnight, Jan. 31. According to the website of the Nobel committee, there are 304 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019. It said 219 are individuals and 85 are organizations.
The US is Japan’s ally and anchor for national defense and Abe has assiduously cultivated cordial ties with Trump. He was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after he won the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s landmark June 2018 summit with Kim in Singapore was replete with pomp but thin on substance.
However, North Korea has refrained from nuclear and missile tests since the US redoubled its diplomatic efforts early last year. That’s a welcome development for Japan, which sits well within the range of Pyongyang’s missile tests and has sometimes had the test rockets land in its territorial waters.
Abe personally has a large political stake in making progress on resolving the abductions issue with North Korea, an important issue for his nationalist political base.
The Nobel Committee chooses the recipient of the prize in early October by a majority vote and then announces that choice. The prize is awarded on Dec. 10, in Oslo, Norway.
By HARUKA NUGA. Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok contributed.