Autumn of Dialogue

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

Will the hot summer under the spell of war be over and an autumn of calm and dialogue is going to come to the Gulf?

There is a sense of slight hope in the air. The UN General Assembly’s high-level General Debate will open on September 24. According to some media reports, the United States has proposed a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani on the sidelines. That’s basically what mediators have been asking recently, either French President Macron or Japanese Prime Minister Abe. If realized, this would be the first summit meeting of leaders of the US and Iran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The Japanese government has been suspending the decision on where to participate in the US-led maritime security coalition in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S.-led coalition in the Persian/Arabian Gulf is feared by many to have counter-productive effects to the tranquility of the sea and has not yet gathered many participating countries except a small number of allied countries like Britain, Bahrain, Israel and Australia.

Participating an overtly anti-Iran coalition would increase the likelihood of a conflict which will inflict a devastating damage upon northern and southern shores of the Gulf. This course of events would pose a serious national security dilemma for Japan which is the most tightly connected ally of the US in the East Asia and depends heavily on the imported oil and natural gas from both side of the Gulf.

To help realize a dialogue between Trump and Rouhani is one of the priorities of Japan’s diplomacy on the Middle East right now. Iranian leaders seem likely to see a dialogue as an option but are hesitant because of the possibility it might give Trump a photo-opportunity and bring them nothing in return.

Whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will keep his position in the September 17 general elections is one of the most important factors which affects the possibilities of and circumstances behind the US-Iran dialogue.

Since the drastic U-turn made by Mr. Trump himself from attacking Iran on June 20, most of the military part of the “maximum pressure” on Iran has been sub-contracted to Israel.

Under the leadership of Netanyahu, Israel has been playing a leading role in promoting the maximum pressure policy to the US policy establishment. It has succeeded in convincing Trump administration to take it as an official US policy. But the maximum pressure hit the ceiling and alternative policies are being searched for.