Japanese government officials confirmed Monday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize after a request from Washington last year, a move that could spark controversy at home and abroad.
The government sent a letter of recommendation to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the wake of the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, as revealed by Trump on Friday, the officials said.
During a parliamentary committee session Monday, Abe stated, "I'm not saying that it's not true."
But he said, the U.S. president "decisively responded to North Korea's nuclear and missile problems and held a historic U.S.-North Korean summit last year," adding, "The (Norwegian) Nobel Committee does not make public the names of nominators or nominees for 50 years. I refrain from making comments in line with that policy."
Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to hold a summit with a North Korean leader when he met Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June last year. The leaders are expected to meet again on Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam.
South Korean President Moon Jae In said last year after the summit that the U.S. president deserved a Nobel Peace Prize, according to media reports. The South Korean government did not nominate Trump for the prize but Moon still believes the U.S. president may deserve such recognition for his leadership in helping to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported, citing Seoul's presidential office.
Trump said Friday that Abe had sent a five-page letter to the Nobel committee, adding that "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."
"He said, 'I have nominated you' or 'Respectfully, on behalf of Japan, I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize,'" Trump quoted Abe as saying.
Abe has sought to build rapport with Trump, partly as Japan is struggling to make substantial progress in efforts to resolve the issue of North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals.
But his decision to recommend Trump could trigger controversy, as a question remains regarding whether the president, known for his "America First" policies, is worthy of the prize, foreign affairs experts said.
Under Trump, the United States has pulled out of the Paris climate accord and a nuclear deal with Iran, while transferring the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Most recently, he pulled the United States out of a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.
Akira Kawasaki, a steering committee member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, said he "feels some doubt" about whether Trump's diplomatic and domestic policies could meet the conditions for the prize.
"The nuclear, missile and abduction issues have not been resolved at all. If (Abe) has nominated (Trump), it could send the wrong message to North Korea and the international community," Yuichiro Tamaki of the opposition Democratic Party for the People said during the committee session.