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June 27, 2017

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Japan PM Abe moans as trade tops Obama menu at sushi dinner: reports

TOKYO--U.S. President Barack Obama was all about business even at a special sushi dinner in Tokyo, which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to use as a bonding opportunity, reports said Saturday.

"It was all about work," Abe told his key ministers Friday night about his conversation with the U.S. leader during their private dinner Wednesday at an exclusive Michelin-starred restaurant, according to major Japanese press, including the Nikkei business daily.

As a master sushi chef worked before them, Obama recited detailed figures to urge Abe to make concessions over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vast trade agreement that would cover about 40 percent of the global economy and a key plank in Washington's bid for a renewed focus on Asia, according to local media.

"Your approval rating is 60 percent. Mine is 40 percent. I want you with strong support to make compromises," Obama told Abe, according to the Mainichi Shimbun and the Tokyo Shimbun.

The revelation came as a report Thursday said, instead of making small talk and savoring Japanese delicacies at Sukiyabashi Jiro — dubbed the world's best sushi restaurant and the subject of the 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" — Obama jumped straight into discussions about trade.

But the outcome of meetings between the two leaders has largely remained opaque, with Abe and Obama saying they had instructed their negotiators to keep trying to reach an accord.

U.S. officials have later declared a "breakthrough" had been made in the talks.

Japan's minister in charge of TPP Akira Amari told a television interview Saturday: "We have made 70 to 80 percent of the way."

The Yomiuri Shimbun said they have effectively reached a broad agreement, but they are keeping it secret before a local election on Sunday in a Japanese farming region.

Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso said Friday that Obama doesn't have political strength to consolidate U.S. domestic support for the trade deal before crucial U.S. mid-term elections.

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