TOKYO — President Trump on Sunday said he expects to meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin next week to discuss confronting the threat from North Korea, part of a 12-day, five-country tour through Asia that started with his arrival in Japan and is very likely to be dominated by discussions about trade and Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
In a speech to US troops after Air Force One landed at Yokota Air Base here on a crisp, sunny morning, Trump never mentioned North Korea, but he said the US military stood ready to defend the country and “fight to overpower” its adversaries.
“No one — no dictator, no regime, and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve,” Trump said, having shed his suit jacket for a bomber jacket bearing the patches of US forces as he addressed hundreds of fatigue-clad women and men. “You are the greatest threat to tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent.”
On his way to Japan, Trump told reporters he would most likely meet with Putin during the trip, a prospect that White House officials had said was a possibility on the sideline of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.
“We want Putin’s help on North Korea,” he said.
Trump’s trip to the continent will be the longest by a US president in more than 25 years. Ahead of what his advisers called a grueling schedule of meetings and summits, the president will get a chance to relax by playing golf on Sunday afternoon with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The outing is reciprocation for a round that Trump hosted in Palm Beach, Fla., in February for Abe and Ernie Els, once the world’s top golfer. For Sunday’s round, Abe has invited Hideki Matsuyama, a Japanese golfer ranked fourth in the world.
“Prime Minister Abe is called a trainer of wild animals,” said Fumio Hirai, a commentator on a morning news show on Fuji TV. “And the world is watching how he does with President Trump.”
The already extensive trip grew longer still Friday when Trump abruptly announced to reporters that he would attend the East Asia Summit in Manila on Nov. 14, adding a day to his travels.
“It is grueling, they tell me, but fortunately, historically that has not been a problem for me,” Trump said. “If I don’t stay fresh, you’ll be the first to tell me. I’ll stay fresh.”
Before leaving for Asia, Trump stopped in Honolulu, where he visited the headquarters of the US Pacific Command and made a sunset visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, which honors the ship on which 1,177 Americans were killed during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the briefing, military officials showed Trump a huge map of the region, with laminated stickers marking the locations of US forces, according to a US official. Their goal was to impress upon the president — who has suggested that allies must share more of the costs of their own defense — that the US military presence in places like South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines was not a matter of charity. “We’re not there for them; we’re there for us,” Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the Pacific Command, told Trump, the official said.
That theme is likely to be highlighted again Tuesday when Trump is in South Korea, where he is scheduled to visit US and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys, which the White House has called a prime example of the kind of “burden sharing” the president wants to emphasize. The South Koreans paid most of the costs of a recent expansion of the base and moving US troops and their families there.
White House officials have framed the trip as a chance for Trump to showcase his warm relationships with world leaders including Abe and President Xi Jinping of China, as well as to demand trade deals more favorable to the United States after his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But it will also highlight the uncertainty in the region and around the world about what to expect from the Trump administration, and the degree to which major powers are charting their own course in the absence of clear signals from the United States.
Trump also makes the trip hobbled by questions about the Russia investigation back in Washington, sharpened in recent days by revelations that his aides had sought to arrange meetings between him and Putin during the campaign. In contrast, Abe and Xi are newly empowered, with their countries handing them sweeping mandates.
Trump on Sunday denied being at a disadvantage when reporters noted that Xi was in a particularly powerful position.
“Excuse me, so am I,” Trump said, citing a surging stock market and low unemployment in the United States, and asserting that “ISIS is virtually defeated in the Middle East.”
“We are coming off some of the strongest numbers we’ve ever had, and he knows that and he respects that,” Trump said of Xi. “We’re going in with tremendous strength.”
Trump’s ability to stay on message during a lengthy and physically demanding trip will most likely be tested, with many opportunities for gaffes or intemperate language. Asked last week whether the president — who likes to refer to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, as “Little Rocket Man” and spoke about raining “fire and fury” on his country — would seek to temper his rhetoric while he traveled through the region, his national security adviser was frank.
“The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously,” Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster told reporters. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language — have you noticed him do that?”