Japan PM on Tehran mission

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Tehran yesterday for a rare diplomatic mission, hoping to defuse tensions between the Islamic republic and Tokyo’s ally Washington. State television broadcast footage of Abe being greeted at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport by Iran’s 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 Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Thursday morning. His arrival was preceded by that of Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who held closeddoor talks with Zarif.

“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.

Lower the temperature

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 Trump’s 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 to ease tension, to adhere to the nuclear agreement and to play a constructive role for the region’s stability,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Iranian newspapers were divided along conservative-reformist lines in their assessment of Abe’s 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 “Tehran’s reaction to Japan’s initiative to raise its international standing by mediating as both Washington’s ally and Iran’s friend.”