Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves Wednesday on departing Tokyo for Iran. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran Sees Japan’s Abe as Mediator for Easing U.S. Sanctions

Tehran threatens new measures if additional parties exit nuclear agreement, but one analyst thinks that’s a bluff

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, due in Iran today, is hoping to help reduce the hostility between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

“Amid rising tensions in the Middle East, we plan to encourage Iran, a regional power, to move toward easing tensions at the top leaders’ meetings,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a statement.

Tokyo is a close ally of Washington and recently stopped importing Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump ended a sanctions-waiver program that had permitted eight countries, Japan among them, to continue purchasing the product.

The waivers were instituted after Trump withdrew from a multilateral 2015 accord aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to economic and other sanctions against Tehran. The U.S. president claimed that Tehran was not holding up its end of the deal and was still working toward becoming a nuclear power.

Reuters quotes an unnamed senior Iranian official as saying that Iran is hoping that Abe “can help [in] easing the ongoing tension between Iran and America… as a goodwill gesture,” adding that “America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions or extend the waivers or suspend them.”

On his trip, which comes just weeks after Trump traveled to Japan, Abe is slated to meet with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

In recent days, Tehran has threatened the remaining parties to the 2015 deal that “it would take new measures” if a 60-day deadline for them to announce a firm stand on the reimposed U.S. sanctions bears no fruit.

Nevertheless, Hisham Jaber, a Lebanese analyst and expert on Iranian affairs, affirmed to The Media Line that Iran was sticking to the agreement.

“The agreement is international and approved by the [United Nations] Security Council,” Jaber said. “Tehran gave the other parties to the deal [the U.K., France, Germany, the European Union, Russia and China] 60 days to decide on [their] position on the American sanctions and the terms of the nuclear deal, which they should commit to.”

Tehran’s goal is to establish a mechanism known as INSTEX to circumvent economic sanctions by allowing non-dollar trade with the Islamic Republic.

Following the American withdrawal from the accord, “Iran has already lost billions of dollars’ worth of deals… based on the nuclear deal,” Jaber stated. In addition, he said that if any of the remaining parties exited the accord, the agreement would no longer be considered international in nature. What’s more, “Iran would increase [its] uranium enrichment,” something media reports in recent days said had already begun following statements made by a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Experts confirm that Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon within a year,” Jaber said, insisting that while this would “bother the U.S. and Israel, the other countries couldn’t care less.”

Abe’s trip to Iran comes close on the heels of a visit to Tehran by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who warned after a meeting with Rouhani that the “situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious.”

Mohammad Jawad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said that during Abe’s stay, he would explain to the prime minister that the American economic war was a form of terrorism and ask him to pressure Trump to end the war and “change the current situation.”

Zarif added that Europe was not in a position to criticize Iran, whether within the framework of the nuclear agreement or outside it, stressing that the Europeans had to restore their economic relations with Iran.

“The European policies in the Middle East have only brought destruction,” he elaborated, “Some countries in Europe are still selling Saudi Arabia arms to bomb Yemen [and] the Europeans allowed some countries in the region to commit crimes.”

Ahmed al-Bouz, a Moroccan analyst and professor of political science and constitutional law at Mohammed V University in Rabat, told The Media Line that the tensions between Washington and Tehran were not merely over the nuclear accord and sanctions.

“Washington is trying to achieve with Iran what it couldn’t in Syria and Yemen through economic war and threats of military attacks,” Bouz stated, adding that the conflict between Iran and the U.S. had entered a new phase.

“It’s direct now, not like in Syria and Yemen, where it was [like] medieval wars,” he said.

Bouz believes that if the remaining parties leave the agreement, Iran might be more flexible in reviewing the American offer to redo the deal.

“Tehran might accept going back to the negotiating table as its position would be weak,” he explained.

(Lawrence Rifkin contributed to this report.)

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