President Donald Trump’s grin-and-grip with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office on Friday came off more like a power play between world leaders — and ended with an exaggerated eye roll from Abe.
The moment quickly took off on Twitter, with GIFs of the awkward moment proliferating. It proved to be just one of a series of slightly off-kilter interactions during a generally warm meeting between Trump and Abe, who are also due to spend part of the weekend golfing at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
With the pool of American and Japanese press in place to observe the meeting between the two nations’ leaders, a Japanese photographer piped up to ask Trump and Abe to shake hands.
The two men obliged, smiling and shaking hands for what seemed like an excruciatingly long 19 seconds as Trump and Abe appeared to engage in a tug-of-war over their clasped hands, with the press snapping pictures.
Once they broke off their handshake, Abe delivered his eye roll and Trump, after offering his trademark thumbs up gesture, noted that the prime minister has “strong hands” and then pantomimed a golf swing.
While Friday’s visit was Abe’s first to the White House since Trump’s inauguration, the two have met before. The Japanese prime minister visited Trump, then the president-elect, at Trump Tower in November. The president greeted Abe like an old friend Friday morning, meeting him personally at the front door to the West Wing, where the two men hugged, shook hands, then hugged again. That interaction, too, seemed a bit off, with Trump appearing unprepared for the second hug.
Later, at their bilateral news conference, Trump elaborated on the greeting, saying, “I shook hands, but I grabbed him and hugged him because that’s the way we feel.”
Trump began the news conference by welcoming Abe to the “very famous White House” but focused his opening remarks largely on the defense and trade relationships between the U.S. and Japan. As he wrapped up, Trump said he and Abe have “developed a great friendship” and that the two have a “very, very good bond” and “very, very good chemistry.”
“I’ll let you know if it changes, but I don’t think it will,” the president said.
Abe, in his remarks, brought up Trump’s utter lack of political experience and then attributed his victory to the “the dynamism of democracy.” He also talked up high-speed Japanese trains, suggesting they might play a role in the president’s promised infrastructure investment. Such a train, Abe said, could get from Washington to New York, “where Trump Tower exists,” in one hour.
“Donald, president, you are excellent businessman, but you have never been in the Congress or been a governor,” Abe said. “You have not experienced being in the public office, but you have fought the uphill struggle and fight for more than a year in the election campaign to become a new president, and this is the dynamism of democracy. I would like to celebrate and congratulate Donald, being sworn in as the president.”
The Japanese prime minister also confirmed that he and the president would play golf during their weekend trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, adding that his performance on the links will not be “up to the level of Donald,” apparently an attempt to appeal to Trump’s vanity.
It will be Trump’s first publicly confirmed round of golf since he took office three weeks ago.
“I’m looking forward for our weekend in Florida with Donald. We will play golf together,” Abe said during his introductory remarks at the bilateral news conference with Trump, according to a translator. “My scores in golf is not up to the level of Donald at all, but my policy is never up, never in. Always aiming for the cup, never to just the goal with the shortcuts and short chops.”
The idea of the two leaders teeing off together was Abe’s, floated during their Trump Tower meeting last November after Trump’s Election Day win. Abe reportedly raised the symbolism of such a round, nothing that the leaders of the U.S. and Japan had not played golf together since former President Dwight Eisenhower played Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was Abe’s grandfather, on a course in Maryland.
Last weekend, Trump said he would partner with Abe on the course instead of playing against him, but further details of their plans, including who else would play with them, have not yet been released by the White House.
Trump, a prodigious golfer whose business empire includes multiple high-level courses in the U.S. and Europe, was a frequent critic of former President Barack Obama’s habit of playing golf on the weekends. Trump regularly suggested that Obama spent too much time on the golf course, neglecting his duties as president.