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Editorial: Japan should continue steps to ease U.S.-Iran tensions in Middle East

Efforts to defuse the serious U.S.-Iran confrontation and thus ease tensions in the Middle East should be made unceasingly.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited Iran and conferred with President Hassan Rouhani. Abe said that “no one wants a military clash,” and Rouhani responded by saying that “Iran also does not want a war [with the United States].”


Japan relies on the Middle East for most of its energy imports. If an unexpected clash occurs in the Strait of Hormuz, the main artery for crude oil transport, Japan will suffer a serious blow. It is of no small significance that Abe and Rouhani have confirmed the need to avoid a military clash.


Rouhani again called for Washington to remove sanctions, arguing that “the regional tensions are rooted in the economic war made by the United States against Iran.”


Further diplomatic efforts are necessary to alleviate mutual distrust between the United States and Iran and prepare the environment for bilateral dialogue.


Abe has held talks also with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In Iran, where politics is not separated from religion, Khamenei has the final say on matters of crucial importance. It is rare for Khamenei to meet with leaders of foreign countries.


Abe has conveyed to Khamenei the standpoint of U.S. President Donald Trump. The Iranian supreme leader reportedly said that Iran “will not produce, possess or use nuclear weapons, and has no intention ever to do these.”


According to a statement by the Iranian side, on the other hand, Khamenei expressed his stance of refusing dialogue with Washington.


It is imperative for Japan to tenaciously tackle the task of serving as a mediator to work toward resolving the nuclear issue and stabilizing the Middle East situation.


Maintain nuclear deal


The important thing is to maintain the 2015 agreement on Iranian nuclear development.


Under the agreement, the period for restricting Iran’s nuclear program is limited to 10 to 15 years. The deal does not include any restriction on ballistic missile development. Citing these deficiencies, the United States has withdrawn from the agreement. However, if the deal breaks down, it will lead to a loss of the mechanism to check Iran’s nuclear development, thus exacerbating the situation.


Iran has called on Britain, France, Germany and other countries to assist in crude oil transactions without following U.S. sanctions. If this is not realized, Tehran has announced that it will suspend the implementation of the nuclear deal and begin in earnest its nuclear development programs, including production of highly enriched uranium.


If Iran breaks the deal by itself, it will lose the trust of European countries and Japan, which support the nuclear deal, and worsen its international isolation. Tehran should be aware of this.


In connection with attacks on tankers and a pipeline of Saudi Arabia, with which Iran is at odds, Iran’s involvement is suspected. Iran is called on to exercise self-restraint in such actions as destabilizing the region, including intervention in the civil wars of Syria and Yemen.


Washington, for its part, should not unnecessarily ramp up its military pressure on Tehran. It is necessary to clarify that its sanctions are not aimed at regime change.

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