Japan’s Abe heads to Iran

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to Iran this week on a rare diplomatic mission Japanese government officials say Abe will not present Tehran with a list of demands, or deliver a message from Washington, and instead want to position Japan as a neutral intermediary.

That could prove useful, said Michael Bosack, special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies. Abe will meet President Hassan Rouhani and the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the June 12-14 trip -- the first time a Japanese prime minister has visited Iran since 1978, a year before the country’s revolution. Iranian commentators said Abe could ferry messages between the two sides.

“Mr. Abe’s visit comes right after meeting Mr. Trump in Japan, therefore the Americans are interested to use this channel,” Ebrahim Rahimpour, a former deputy foreign minister, told Iran’s Shargh daily ahead of the trip. The trip also offers Abe a rare role as international statesman, particularly given Tokyo’s disappointing recent diplomatic track record.

Efforts this year to resolve a long-running standoff with Russia over a string of disputed islands have run aground. And Japan has also found itself out of the loop on perhaps the most pressing diplomatic challenge in its backyard: North Korea. Abe “needs a diplomatic stunt as he faces an impasse on Russia and North Korea,” said Tetsuro Kato, political science professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University