Japan will make every effort to ease US-Iran tensions, says Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo would like to fulfil what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo would like to fulfil what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Japan wants to make every effort to reduce the tensions between the US and Iran before responding to an expected American request to send its navy to safeguard strategic waters off Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday.

Japanese media has said that Washington's proposal to boost surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen could be on the agenda during a visit to Tokyo this week by US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Mr Abe said that before making a decision on joining the US, Tokyo would like to fulfil what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension. "We have a long tradition of friendship with Iran and I have met with its President any number of times, as well as other leaders," Mr Abe told a news conference yesterday after his coalition's victory in an election on Sunday for Parliament's Upper House.

"Before we make any decisions on what to do, Japan would like to make every effort to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States."

Tokyo needs to gather information on what Washington is thinking and what it hopes to accomplish, Mr Abe said, adding that the two key allies remain in close contact.

As Mr Abe spoke, Mr Bolton met Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Mr Bolton, who heads to South Korea after Japan, earlier also met top Japanese National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi.

Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won a solid majority, but together with like-minded allies, fell short of the two-thirds "super majority" needed to begin the controversial process of amending the Constitution, which has never changed since it was adopted after Japan's World War II defeat.

Mr Abe has long sought to revise the Constitution's pacifist Article 9 to further legitimise the military, but public opinion is divided.

He is expected to try to win backing from members of the second largest opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People.

 
 
 

"The judgment of the people (in the election) was that debate should take place," he said. "I want to have serious debate that goes beyond the boundaries of ruling versus opposition parties."

The solid showing of Mr Abe's bloc in the Upper House election means that he has avoided becoming a lame duck in the final two years of his third three-year term as party leader, and is on track to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister if he stays in his post until November.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2019, with the headline 'Japan will make every effort to ease US-Iran tensions, says Abe'. Subscribe