Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has apparently cancelled a planned trip to Iran.
Abe is believed to be standing behind his friend President Trump as The Donald takes a hard stance on Iran. This visit, which had been in the works for a while, would have been the first trip to Tehran by a Japanese leader in 40 years.
Abe is scheduled to make a tour through the Middle East starting on July 11th. But it seems the Japanese have now told the Iranians to cancel the dinner reservations, because Abe can’t make it, so sorry.
Japanese government officials are still being coy about the issue. Motosada Matano, who is a spokesman for the Japanese PM’s office, told reporters no decisions have been made yet about Abe’s foreign travel plans. (Unlikely; the Japanese are well known for their ability to make plans at least a week in advance. It boggles the mind to believe they haven’t got anything set in stone yet; this is probably just a polite way of saving face.)
This decision by Shinzo Abe to stay out of Iran on his Middle East trip comes after Donald Trump has been pushing hard to get back the Iran sanctions that Obama blew up. The US pulled out of the Iran deal in May and they’ve been urging allies, like Japan, to quit buying Iranian oil entirely by early November.
The Japanese, though, have been relying on Iranian oil for decades. Traditionally the two nations have had cordial and stable ties. Japan is undeniably a pretty Western country, but they’re not considered by the Iranians to be a major threat.
And the Japanese need Iranian oil. So they have indicated to the Trump administration that they can’t cut or halt Iranian oil imports and further, fearing damage to their own economy from rising oil prices.
But Shinzo Abe has made many overtures to Trump in the last few years, and he is considered by most to be Trump’s closest geopolitical ally in Asia, and possibly in the world.
Trump and Abe get along well, and with the China/North Korea situation still very much an issue, Abe might be looking to make Trump happy in order to get more help in Japan’s own back yard. It remains to be seen whether skipping a Tehran visit will be an empty gesture by Abe, aimed simply to appease Trump, or whether Japan will really cut back on oil imports.
But deciding not to talk to the Iranians certainly looks like a first step.