The government of Japan says it has stepped up diplomacy to defuse tensions in the Middle East ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Tokyo on Friday, Kyodo News reported today. President Rouhani’s is scheduled to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his two-day visit.
"We have been making strenuous diplomatic efforts to ease tensions in the Middle East and stabilize the situation there in coordination with the United States, Iran and other countries concerned," Kiyodo News Agency reported Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying at a press conference.
Discussing Japan’s planned dispatch of its Self Defense Forces to the Middle East will be among the topics Abe will discuss with the Iranian president.
To avoid hurting relationships with Iran Japan decided not to join the U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz which formed after a series of oil tanker attacks in the Persian Gulf.
However, as a separate initiative, the Japanese government is planning to send a helicopter-carrying vessel and a patrol plane, along with Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel, to areas outside the strait of Hurmuz.
The plan to dispatch the Self Defense Forces is expected to be finalized by the Japanese cabinet on December 23. Two weeks ago, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi had said Iran opposes the dispatch of Japanese forces to the region but a source familiar with Japan-Iran relations told Kyodo News on December 17 that Rouhani is expected to show understanding of Japan’s deployment.
The Japanese leader is expected to demand that Iran comply with the nuclear deal, an unnamed source told Kyodo News.
Iran-Japan leaders are also expected to talk about the U.S. sanctions that have hugely dropped Iran’s oil exports. Before the sanction Japan was among the major buyers of Iran’s oil.
Iran’s oil exports have dropped to 100-300,000 barrels per day, down from 2.5m barrels before the sanctions. Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri yesterday said he cannot believe that even an independent country such as India is refusing to buy Iran’s oil due to the crippling U.S. sanctions.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first Japanese leader to visit Iran since 1978. He hoped to broker dialogue between Tokyo's longtime friend Tehran and security ally Washington but had little success.
Abe will probably try to convince the Iranian President that Iran needs to negotiate with the U.S. directly but yesterday Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi Rouhani said Iran will not negotiate with the U.S. at “any level”.
Tension between Iran and the U.S. has increased in the past few days. Yesterday the U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has asked Iraq to help prevent attacks on U.S. personnel that both countries have attributed to groups backed by Iran.
Rouhani is currently in Malaysia to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit of Muslim leaders billed as a forum to examine the problems the Islamic world is facing. His visit will be the first by an Iranian president since Mohammad Khatami’s visit to Japan in October 2000.
Speaking at a gathering of Iranian nationals residing in Malaysia today Rouhani described the U.S. sanctions as a lose-lose approach. “I believe sanctions cannot continue as it is an illegal measure,” he said and added: “Americans have no choice but to return from the path that they are following and we will force them to do so with our resistance.”