U.S. President Donald Trump expressed hope for Japan to act as a mediator in the Iranian situation during the Japan-U.S. summit. That prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to begin making final arrangements to visit Iran next month.
Trump, who says he does not want a war, said, “The prime minister has close ties with the Iranian leadership, so we’ll see what happens.” The prime minister responded, “We’ll ease tensions.”
The Trump administration last year unilaterally withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran. On the other hand, this month Iran announced a partial suspension of the agreement. The U.S. is deploying strategic bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East, seriously escalating tensions there.
It goes without saying that serving as a mediator between the U.S. and Iran is difficult. But it is a mission indispensable for world peace and an opportunity to embody the “active pacifism” advocated by the prime minister.
At the same time, we need to recognize that the stability of the Iranian situation would be in Japan’s national interest. Japan heavily depends on the Middle East for crude oil imports and much of Japan-bound crude passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which separates Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. If Iran closed the strait, Japan would be seriously affected.
Our hope is that the prime minister will persuade Iran to continue to abide by the nuclear agreement. Iran is warning that it will resume nuclear development in a phased manner. But provocation only makes things worse.
During the Japan-U.S. summit, the prime minister was, in a sense, entrusted by President Trump to act as a mediator. Japan should convey the U.S.’s concerns, including concerns about ballistic missiles and support for terrorists, and listen to Iran’s opinions so as to seize an opportunity to bring both sides to the negotiating table.
There is a suspicion of a strong connection between Iran’s nuclear development and North Korea. No matter how Japan mediates, what is important is a determination not to allow nuclear proliferation. That is a shared goal in dealing with North Korea.
It is difficult for the five remaining countries in the nuclear agreement to serve as a mediator with the U.S., which unilaterally left the deal. The leaders of the U.K and other European countries remaining in the deal lack leadership. And it would be dangerous if China or Russia approached Iran.
Japan has a long relationship with Iran. It should realize that Japan is the only country capable of mediating between it and the U.S. and easing tensions in the Middle East.
We hope the government will thoroughly prepare for the prime minister to visit Iran, including coordination with Saudi Arabia, an adversary of Tehran.
Influential heads of state will gather for the meeting of Group of 20 leaders to be held in Osaka at the end of next month. Japan should take that into consideration to fully mediate in the Iranian situation.