All national dailies reported on Saturday that when meeting the press on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga did not mention who was responsible for launching the latest tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz despite the U.S.’s claim that Iran instigated them. The top government spokesman reportedly said: “We are still collecting information. I’d like to refrain from making any prejudgments.” As the attacks flew in the face of Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to mediate between the United States and Iran, the GOJ was reportedly perplexed by the Trump administration’s assertion that Iran was responsible for the incidents, which occurred when the premier was still in Tehran.
Mainichi wrote that if Japan were to side with the U.S. by blaming Iran, its amicable relations with Tehran would be undermined, making it difficult to continue its “mediation diplomacy.” The daily said Japan cannot ask ship owners to stop operating tankers in the area because doing so would disrupt a critical energy supply route. Since sending MSDF ships for protection would also be extremely difficult due to Article 9 of the Constitution, the daily explained that Japanese officials are just crossing their fingers and hoping a similar incident won’t happen again. Defense Minister Iwaya reportedly said there is currently no need to dispatch SDF vessels to the region to escort Japanese tankers.
According to Yomiuri, GOJ officials speculated that the perpetrators of the attacks perhaps did not know at the time that the tanker in question was a Japanese ship because it was not hoisting a Japanese flag. Asahi noted that Washington has not yet presented clear evidence of Iran’s involvement.
In a dispatch on Sunday morning, Kyodo News cited government sources as saying on Saturday that the GOJ has been asking the U.S. for concrete evidence of its claim that Iran was responsible for the attacks because it remains unconvinced. These sources reportedly indicated that Foreign Minister Kono also made such a request in a teleconference with Secretary Pompeo on Friday. An unnamed senior government official was quoted as saying that the explanation provided by the U.S. “has not helped us go beyond speculation.” A source close to Prime Minister Abe was quoted as saying: “These are not definite proof that it was Iran.” The source also stated: “Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it.” If having expertise sophisticated enough to conduct the attack could be a reason to conclude that the attacker was Iran, “That would apply to the United States and Israel as well,” said a source at the Foreign Ministry. The source close to Abe was also quoted as saying: “The attacks have severely affected the prime minister’s reputation as he was trying to be a mediator between the United States and Iran…. It is a serious concern, and making mistakes when determining facts is impermissible.”