Japan PM on Tehran mission to ease Iran-US tensions
1 month ago, 12-Jun-2019
Abe (right) speaks to reporters before his departure at Tokyos Haneda Airport. AFP photo
TEHRAN: Japans Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Tehran yesterday for a rare diplomatic mission, hoping to defuse tensions between the Islamic republic and Tokyos ally Washington.
State television broadcast footage of Abe being greeted at Tehrans Mehrabad airport by Irans Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in 41 years, Abe was expected to go straight into talks with President Hassan Rouhani and to meet Irans supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Thursday morning.
His arrival was preceded by that of Japans Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who held closed-door talks with Zarif.
Addressing a cabinet meeting ahead of the visit, Rouhani said Irans leaders and people were united in their view that the main culprit is America. Not a single individual doubts it.
The (US) pressure has reached its full strength, he told the cabinet.
Tehran is locked in a bitter standoff with Washington after President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions, which have forced Japan to halt its once substantial purchases of Iranian oil, and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.
Amid concerns over growing tension in the Middle East and with the attention of the international community on the issue, Japan wishes to do its best towards peace and stability in the region, Abe told reporters before leaving for Tehran.
Based on traditional friendly ties between Japan and Iran, I would like to have candid exchanges of opinions with President Rouhani and supreme leader Khamenei towards easing tensions, he said.
Japanese government officials said Abe would not present Tehran with a list of demands, or deliver a message from Washington, but instead wanted to play the role of neutral intermediary.
Abe discussed the situation in Iran in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said.
A government official said Abe will not be in Tehran to mediate between Iran and the US and that easing tensions was the prime purpose.
He might touch upon the subject (of mediation) but that does not necessarily mean he is delivering a message from Washington, he added.
Japan is hoping to lower the temperature, officials say.
Abe won Trumps blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month.
We believe it is extremely important that, at the leadership level, we call on Iran as a major regional power to ease tension, to adhere to the nuclear agreement and to play a constructive role for the regions stability, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Iranian newspapers were divided along conservative-reformist lines in their assessment of Abes visit.
The reformist Sazandegi daily ran a front-page cartoon of Abe in full samurai armour, a rolled piece of paper in one hand and a shield on the other.
In an accompanying article headlined A samurai in Tehran, the paper said everyone was waiting to see Tehrans reaction to Japans initiative to raise its international standing by mediating as both Washingtons ally and Irans friend.
The ultraconservative Javan daily, warned that Iran and Japan minus America could be a winning formula for Abe, but Japan as Americas intermediary in Iran would fail given the deep mistrust of the US.
Other Iranian commentators said Abe could pass messages between the two sides.
Mr Abes visit comes right after meeting Mr Trump in Japan, so the Americans are interested in using this channel, Ebrahim Rahimpour, a former deputy foreign minister, told Irans Shargh daily. AFP