Japan's PM Abe heads to Tehran as US-Iran mediator

Photo: EPA US President Donald Trump (L), Japan's PM Shinzo Abe, Yokosuka, Japan, 28 May.

Japan's PM Shinzo Abe heads to Iran this week on a rare diplomatic mission, hoping to ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and Tokyo's key ally Washington, news wires reported. Abe will meet President Hassan Rouhani and the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his 3-days trip, started on Wednesday, the first time a Japanese prime minister has visited Iran since 1978, a year before the country's revolution.

Japan is hoping to lower the temperature, officials say, with Abe winning Trump's blessing for the mediation trip when the US leader visited Tokyo last month. Tehran is locked in a bitter standoff with the US after president Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal last year. Washington has now reimposed sanctions and shifted troops to the region, putting military and economic pressure on Iran, including by forcing US allies like Japan to stop purchasing Iranian oil.

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. "Japan carries none of the historical or religious baggage of other potential mediators... (and) has demonstrated its willingness to go its own way on Middle East policy," he told AFP. "These factors better position Abe for engagement with Ayatollah Khamenei and mean that Japanese-proposed options could allow hardliners in Iran to entertain proposed off-ramps, without the potential fallout that could come from accepting 'Western' solutions."

 

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