Japanese PM Heading to Iran in Bid to Calm Gulf Tensions
Just weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will head to Iran on Wednesday in a bid to mediate between the White House and the mullahs. On his trip, Abe is slated to meet with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. “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,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. Tokyo is a close ally of the United States and recently stopped importing Iranian oil after President Trump ended a sanctions waiver program that had permitted eight countries to continue purchasing the product. Abe’s visit comes on the heels of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’s trip to Tehran, where he warned after a meeting with Rouhani that the “situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious.” For his part, the Iranian president condemned the U.S. and called on the European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal to “resist the economic war on Iran imposed by America.” Indeed, Britain, France and Germany have less than a month before an Iranian-set deadline to complete a mechanism – known as INSTEX – to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions by allowing continued non-dollar trade with the Islamic Republic. Otherwise, Tehran has threatened to pull out of the nuclear pact and accelerate its atomic program. In response, the Trump Administration is reportedly considering levying fines on a financial body, the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which Iran set up to operate in coordination with INSTEX. The system is ostensibly geared toward enabling humanitarian trade with Europe, although the White House apparently believes that the apparatus could be exploited.