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Japan may have nominated Trump for the Nobel Prize — at America’s request

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hasn’t denied President Trump’s claim.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe talk during the family photo opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders’ Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe talk during the family photo opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders’ Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Daniel Jayo/Getty Images

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly nominated President Donald Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize last fall — but only after the Trump administration asked him to.

According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Abe formally nominated Trump for the award for his efforts to make peace with North Korea following the historic summit in June between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But Abe apparently only did so after receiving an “unofficial” request from the US government last fall.

The nomination first came to light on Friday, when during an address to the nation declaring a national emergency, President Trump mentioned offhand that Abe had nominated him for the prestigious award.

“Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize,” Trump said. “He said, ‘I have nominated you ... respectfully, on behalf of Japan. I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize.’”

“You know why? Because he had rocket ships and he had missiles flying over Japan,” Trump said. “They feel safe. I did that.”

“I’ll probably never get it, but that’s okay,” Trump quipped to the reporters gathered to hear his announcement, adding, “They gave it to Obama — he didn’t even know what he got it for.”

Trump’s less-than-humble boast was initially met with a healthy dose of skepticism by many, including the media. After all, Trump has a record of exaggerating his accomplishments.

But it seems it may have actually happened.

Asked by members of Japan’s parliament on Monday whether the story was true, Abe didn’t deny it: “I’m not saying that it is not the fact,” he said, according to CNN. “I’ll continue to [offer] my utmost cooperation to President Trump to solve the North Korean nuclear and missile issues.”

“With that in mind, as for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee has decided not to disclose nominators and nominees for 50 years. I would like to refrain from commenting on it, based on that fact,” he added.

Why Japan would nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize

It’s certainly plausible that Abe would nominate Trump for his efforts toward North Korea. Abe has been a close ally of Trump’s and, along with many other world leaders, seems to have learned that flattery is often the way to Trump’s heart.

Shortly after Trump was elected, Abe traveled to Trump Tower in New York to gift the new president-elect with a $4,000 gold-plated golf club. And during Trump’s trip to Japan in November 2017, Abe presented Trump with white hats with “Donald & Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” embroidered on them in gold thread.

What’s more, Japan is within striking distance of North Korea’s missiles; in 2017, the country test-fired two long-range missiles that flew right over Japan, splashing down in the waters just off the coast.

So perhaps merely staying on Trump’s good side is what led Abe to honor America’s request to nominate Trump for the award — or maybe he merely thought it was a good idea, given all that Trump has accomplished with North Korea so far.

But a top US official told me that Abe’s administration was “unhappy that private communication involving their prime minister was made public,” and that the displeasure was made known to the American government.

Which suggests that, either way, Abe apparently wasn’t expecting the whole world to know he was behind the nomination.

Why Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize — and why he doesn’t

Abe reportedly nominated Trump for the prize shortly after his June summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un. That meeting — the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader — was certainly historic, no question about it.

And tensions between the two countries are lower than they have been in decades. As Trump likes to note, Pyongyang hasn’t detonated a nuclear device or tested a missile since 2017 — a fact he attributes to his diplomatic prowess.

Put together, all of this could make a decent case for why Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. After all, President Obama received the award in 2009 after having accomplished much less in the way of tangible progress toward world peace.

The problem is that Trump’s success with North Korea isn’t quite as big as it seems at first glance.

First, since the summit in June, the two countries have made very little progress in negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear program. Both sides are at an impasse: America is demanding that North Korea offer a full, detailed list of its nuclear inventory before the US lifts any sanctions on the country, and Pyongyang is demanding the sanctions be lifted before it offers the full list and seriously begins to downgrade its nuclear capabilities.

Second, North Korea expert Sung-Yoon Lee from Tufts University’s Fletcher School points out that there have been lengthy lulls in Pyongyang’s weapons testing before.

For example, about three years passed between North Korea’s first and second nuclear tests, and about four years between its second and third. It’s completed six tests in total, only one of which took place during the Trump administration. There have also been years-long gaps in North Korea’s missile tests over Japan, which started in 1998.

“For Trump to sell months of no major provocation as peace in our time is, how shall I say, premature,” says Lee.

Ultimately, Trump seems to have betrayed the confidence of an ally in pursuit of a prestigious honor that he arguably doesn’t deserve. One wonders whether Abe, if he actually did nominate Trump, may soon come to regret his decision.