June 12, 2019
The Japanese Prime Minister is due in Tehran today.
The government is making arrangements for Abe to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Abe will encourage the United States and Iran to hold direct dialogue, aiming to mediate the increasing tensions between two countries over their nuclear agreement.
It will be the first visit to Iran by an incumbent prime minister in 41 years, since former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda visited the country in 1978, and the first since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
According to government sources, the government is considering having Abe meet with Rouhani on Wendesday and with Khamenei on Thursday. Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Teheran on Wednesday before Abe’s arrival and meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The United States withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran that was concluded under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama and resumed economic sanctions against the country. In response to these moves, Iran restarted part of its nuclear-related activities that were restricted under the nuclear agreement.
Against this backdrop, tensions are growing in the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere. “Neither country can show weakness, and an accidental clash could lead to the expansion of the conflict,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Thursday, “It is extremely important to urge Iran’s top leaders to ease the tension, comply with the nuclear agreement and play a constructive role to stabilize the region.”
The government will seek to hold a U.S.-Iran summit on the sidelines of the summit of Group of 20 economies to be held in Osaka at the end of this month, or during the U.N. General Assembly in September.
Japan’s long-standing, unique Middle East diplomacy lurks in the background of Abe’s visit to Iran.
After the 1979 revolution, the United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran and their bilateral relations deteriorated. In contrast, Japan maintains diplomatic relations with Iran and has kept up a friendly relationship with the country through oil trading and other exchanges.
Abe himself has connections with Iran. His father Shintaro Abe, then foreign minister, visited Iran in August 1983 during the Iran-Iraq War. He met with then President Khamenei and asked him to stop fighting. Abe accompanied his father as a secretary.
Since 2013, Abe has held summit talks with Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly for six years in a row, and enjoys a certain degree of trust from Iran. Since Abe is close to U.S. President Donald Trump, Zarif reportedly asked him to mediate between the two countries, saying during an emergency visit to Japan last month that Trump would listen to Abe.
Even so, many believe that it will be difficult to improve the relationship between the United States and Iran. However, given that Khamenei, who has rarely met with leaders of Western countries in recent years, is to meet with Abe, some believe the Iranian side is also seeking to ease the tension.
The U.S. government apparently expects that Abe’s visit to Iran will create an opportunity for dialogue between the United States and Iran.
In an interview with a private British broadcaster that was aired on Wednesday, Trump said he did not want to take military action and preferred dialogue.