Can Japan’s Shinzo Abe calm U.S.-Iran tensions?

Can Japan’s Shinzo Abe calm U.S.-Iran tensions?

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on June 13, 2019. Courtesy: Khamenei.Ir
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on June 13, 2019. Courtesy: Khamenei.Ir

Iran’s Supreme Leader rejected the prospect of talks with the U.S. on Thursday, upending a diplomatic visit by Japan's prime minister.

UNITED NATIONS – Iran’s Supreme Leader rejected the prospect of talks with the U.S. on Thursday, upending a diplomatic visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intended to soothe U.S.-Iran tensions.

On Twitter, Ayatollah Khamenei said that, “I don’t consider Trump as a person deserving to exchange messages with; I have no response for him & will not answer him.”

Barbara Slavin directs the Atlantic Council’s Future Iran Initiative and says Khamenei’s response isn’t surprising given Washington’s punishing Iran pressure campaign.

“What Khamenei is saying to President Trump is, ‘you say you want negotiations but you have made no concessions and no offer of concessions and we will not respond to pressure.’ ”

“The Iranians are definitely looking for some sort of gesture from the United States, otherwise it would be too huge a loss of face at this point to agree to talk to Trump.”

Even with U.S.-Iran talks tabled for now, Slavin thinks the White House’s Iran policy could still be on track.

“My own sense is that the real architects of this policy – and that doesn’t include Donald Trump – their main interest is in weakening Iran and collapsing its economy if possible – hopes of regime change, maybe, but at least forcing Iran to pull back somehow from its regional interventions. …I don’t think they expect or want negotiations.”

Then why did Abe visit Iran in the first place? Perhaps to send Iran a message that despite being economically isolated, the country isn’t a diplomatic pariah and should still comply with a 2015 nuclear deal.

Then there’s national interest:

“Even if Japan is not buying Iranian oil at this point, it relies on oil primarily from the Persian Gulf, and the last thing the Japanese want to see is real hostilities in the region that would jeopardize its supplies of oil and that would jack up the price of oil.”

Amid U.S. allegations Iran attacked an oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz on Thursday, Abe’s effort to settle oil markets could be in vain. At press time, crude oil futures were up 2 percent in response to Thursday’s attack.

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