NEW YORK — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday criticized recent attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia as an “extremely contemptible crime,” while refraining from joining other nations in naming Iran responsible for the strikes that have roiled the Middle East.
In his address at the U.N. General Assembly, Abe sought a delicate balance, showing his country’s desire to maintain its longstanding amicable ties with Iran in the face of U.S. pressure while also denouncing the Sept. 14 military action against Saudi targets.
“The attack on Saudi Arabia’s crude oil facilities was an extremely contemptible crime that holds the international economic order hostage,” Abe said.
Iran has grabbed the spotlight as global leaders gather in New York for the General Assembly to pursue diplomacy amid heightened risk of military clashes in the Persian Gulf.
U.S. President Donald Trump used this year’s speech on Tuesday to blame Iran for the recent strikes as Washington continues to apply pressure on Tehran after the U.S. withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Britain, France and Germany have also singled out Iran over the attacks.
Tehran denies any involvement in the strikes, for which Yemen’s Houthi rebels immediately claimed responsibility.
The General Assembly speech, Abe’s seventh, came months after he made a rare visit to Iran in hopes of easing the intensifying standoff between Tehran and Washington.
Abe praised what he described as the “precious” pronouncement made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran does not plan to “possess, produce or use” nuclear weapons.
“It is my own unchanging role to call on Iran as a major power to take actions that are grounded in the wisdom derived from its rich history,” the prime minister said.
Abe also renewed his determination to realize a face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it is an “unchanging objective” for Japan to resolve Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile and abduction issues and normalize ties.
He threw his support behind Trump’s approach toward North Korea, saying that it has changed “the dynamics” surrounding the country as he pursued summit talks with Kim.
“I am determined to meet Chairman Kim Jong Un myself face-to-face without attaching any conditions,” the Japanese leader said, as resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s is a top priority.
In a departure from his past speeches at the United Nations, Abe did not mention any of Japan’s neighboring countries apart from North Korea. He did not touch on South Korea as bilateral ties with Seoul have sunk to the lowest level in years over wartime labor and trade issues.
Previously, the prime minister used his addresses in New York to lay out his diplomatic policy visions and goals. A year ago, for example, he expressed his resolve to advance peace treaty negotiations with Russia and improve ties with China.
Abe has sought to build personal rapport with Trump, who pushes an “America First” policy agenda and questions multilateral arrangements. The two leaders are now expected to reach a bilateral trade deal when they meet on Wednesday.
In his roughly 15-minute speech, Abe said Japan remains committed to multilateral frameworks and globalism as a way to reduce disparities following the entry into force of an 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and Japan’s free trade pact with the European Union.
“The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is now poised to reach agreement with Japan’s contribution serving as a propelling force,” he said of another proposed pact, which involves the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with six partners including Japan and China.
The promotion of free trade has been a major theme in recent gatherings under such frameworks as the Group of Seven and Group of 20. Japan hosted the G-20 summit this year in Osaka where Abe managed to secure a commitment from his counterparts, including Trump, to “free, fair and non-discriminatory” trade.
“In recent years I chaired the G-7 and G-20 summits as well as the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD, three times,” Abe said, adding, “Multilateral frameworks do indeed have that role as a leveler.”
Abe rallied support for Japan’s bid to serve as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council in the upcoming 2022 election. Japan is among the countries vocal about reform of the international body that will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
Education is at the core of Japan’s international engagement, Abe said, noting that the country seeks to be a “foster power” that helps to nurture human potential. He stressed the importance of empowering women and girls to make society more inclusive.