Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to Iran to help ease the confrontation between Washington and Tehran has been an unusual diplomatic attempt at peace mediation by the leader of Japan, a pacifist nation in the Far East.
Abe should continue acting as a fair and effective peace mediator to set a precedent for Japan’s broad international contribution in the future.
Abe visited Tehran, whose relationship with Washington is fraught with rising tensions, and met with President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It was the first visit to Iran by a sitting Japanese prime minister in 41 years.
Khamenei, the most powerful personality in Iran, seldom holds talks with a Western leader. Abe’s meeting with him is significant if only as a rare direct communication with the powerful ayatollah.
As a country with friendly relations with both the United States and Iran, Japan has a reasonable role to play in efforts to ease the tensions between the two nations.
The Middle East is vital for Japan’s energy security as the source of 80 percent of its crude oil consumption. But Tokyo’s effective diplomatic efforts to help build peace in the region would also contribute to keeping the entire international order on an even keel.
The outcome of Abe’s trip to Iran will tell a lot about Japan’s ability to serve as a sincere peace broker for the region.
It is crucial for Tokyo to clarify upfront its stance in tackling this diplomatic challenge. Tokyo’s actions are, undoubtedly, based on its close alliance with Washington. But the Japanese government cannot hope to serve as a peace mediator unless it can persuade the United States to take necessary actions on its part.
Japan needs to make it clear that its diplomatic agenda is driven not by a policy of simply following the United States but by its commitment to such universal values as pacifism and international cooperation.
This is important not just for its efforts for peace mediation but also for the integrity of its foreign policy as a whole.
After his visit to Iran, Abe should have direct talks with U.S. President Donald Trump to inform him that Iranian leaders, or anyone else, do not want to see the current conflict escalate further and convince him that reviving the international agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is the best chance for peace.
The current crisis has been created by the Trump administration, in the first place. It was triggered by Trump’s unilateral decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was the result of many years of multilateral diplomatic efforts.
Khamenei told Abe that Iran has no intention to produce, possess or use any nuclear weapon. This remark appears to signal Tehran’s desire to see a peaceful solution to the situation.
Trump, for his part, has spoken about possible talks with Iran while ratcheting up his rhetoric against the country.
Abe should persuade Trump to stop threatening Iran with America’s military power while briefing him on what Khamenei and Rouhani told him face to face.
Abe should then work with European and other countries concerned to find ways to resume exports of Iranian crude oil while keeping the country's nuclear program frozen, without causing either Washington or Tehran to lose face.
Abe has been advocating “proactive pacifism” as the core principle of his foreign policy. But his actions have been focused on enhancing Japan’s security alliance with the United States.
If he wants to make contributions that are really valued by the international community, Abe needs to expand the scope and boost the quality of Japan’s peace-building efforts based on its basic foreign policy principles.
The leaders of all the countries involved in the Iran nuclear deal will attend the Group of 20 summit, to be held in Osaka in late June.
Abe should continue his efforts to help ease the tensions between Washington and Tehran during the event, for example, by securing a pledge by the countries concerned to work for a peaceful solution.
Abe would cause deep disappointment among the countries if his actions are seen as driven by a desire to score political points ahead of the summer Upper House election.