(Mainichi: March 8, 2016 – p. 2)
By Keiko Takahashi and Yohei Maeda
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun looking into the possibility of visiting Iran and Saudi Arabia within the year, Mainichi learned from a government official on March 7. Following the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear development, Abe intends to strengthen Japan’s economic relations with Tehran. The prime minister is also considering visiting Saudi Arabia, which has severed its diplomatic ties with Iran, in order to take a balanced approach to the two countries.
When Katsuyuki Kawai, an assistant to the prime minister, visited Tehran in February, he reportedly informed the Iranian government that Abe would visit within the year. If the visit is realized, it will be the first time in 38 years for a Japanese prime minister to visit to Iran since Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda traveled there. Prime Minister Abe plans to participate in the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD6) to be held in Kenya on August 27-28, and a plan has emerged for Abe to visit Iran and Saudi Arabia before or after the conference.
Many business representatives from automobile- and energy-related industries are planning to accompany the prime minister if he visits Iran. Following the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran by the U.S., European countries, and the UN Security Council, Japan concluded an investment agreement with Iran in February. China and European countries have already strengthened their relations with Iran in view of its abundant resources such as oil and natural gas. In the words of a Japanese government official, “Japan must not be left behind.”
Meanwhile, a Shia leader was executed in Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly Sunni, in January. Iranian demonstrators attacked the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran in protest. Consequently, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed. Japan has traditionally maintained good relations with the two regional powers. “If the prime minister were to visit Iran, it would be desirable for him to also go to Saudi Arabia,” said a Foreign Ministry official.