What Japanese People Want to Know in Prime Minister Abe’s Visit to Tehran

By: Professor. Satoshi Ikeuchi
Professor, Global Security and Religion, University of Tokyo

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to visit Iran in the middle of coming June. It is an attempt to ease the tension between the north and the south shores of the Gulf. Abe took a mediator’s role in the US-Iran tension and Mr. Trump endorsed it. This was the most unexpected result of the talks between two leaders in Japan during the long visit to Japan from 25 to 28 of May by the US President. 

Interestingly, according to one report by Japanese media, Prime Minister Abe’s visits to Iran were already suggested by Mr. Trump in the previous talk between them on April 27 in Washington DC.

If it is true, we can not but think again. Is there a full support by the President for the hardliners within the US administration who seems trying to induce overreaction from hardliners in Iran to get a pretext for military attacks on Iran?  

Or, does President intend to play a “Good Cop” role at the expense of “Bad Cops” played by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo? If this is the case, Mr. Abe’s visit to Iran will be a scripted play of an errand to convey the message of Mr. Trump’s true intention to negotiate and make a deal. We don’t know for sure as yet.

But the certain thing is, Japan’s diplomatic authorities have been trying hard to maintain relations and communications with Iran even under the extreme pressure from the United State, the most important diplomatic and security ally of Japan.

In 2019, Japan and Iran quietly celebrate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Iran. There have been calls for visit to Iran by an incumbent prime minister of Japan for the first time in 41 years. Abe’s visit to Iran in June, if realized, seizes the moment of rising tension to finish long-sought-after task.

Simply, in the eyes of Japanese, the long hostile relations between the US and Iran since Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 was not productive for both countries and for the entire region’s security and stability.

Japan and Iran have long maintained relationship based on mutual respect and sympathy as Asian countries that have struggled hard in modernization and development in disadvantageous circumstances. Japan considers its relationship with Iran to be compatible with its robust ties with the Gulf Arab States through energy security. Japan cautiously built relationship with Israel largely based on economic and technological compatibility and complementarity.

Do people in the Gulf and Israel really think that JCPOA must be discarded and there can be a better deal? Do they really think that a “surgical strike” against Iran is possible and effective? Is it possible to completely silence Iranian counterattacks to secure peace and prosperity of the affluent Gulf Arab countries, with help of the deployment of the state-of-the-art weapons of the United States, and US deployment of additional forces? Why Israel, who has been the most vocal advocate of a surgical strike on Iran, seems suddenly absent from the scene while Netanyahu’s fate after the elections became unclear?

These deep-rooted questions are hovering over the head of Japanese policy makers and there are justifiable fear of vicious cycle of provocation and miscalculation from both sides of the confrontation which can lead to an unintentional war in the Gulf. In the occasion of Prime Minister Abe’s abruptly announced visit, Japanese people want to hear the answers to these questions.