Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani visited Tokyo February 13 to celebrate the 90th anniversary this year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Iran. While in Tokyo, Larijani held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and several Diet members.
The timing couldn’t be more interesting: At the very same time that Larijani was in Tokyo, US Vice President Mike Pence was at a Middle East Security conference in Warsaw, excoriating the Iranian regime and pushing Europe to join the US in abandoning the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
As outlined in our last post about the Trump Nobel nomination, there has been a very one-way relationship between Abe and Trump. Abe kisses up to Trump, and Trump removes the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership. Abe kisses up to Trump some more, and Trump levies tariffs against Japan. Abe keeps it up, Trump keeps Abe in the dark on the US-North Korea summit. And then Trump has the gall to ask Abe to nominate Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize.
While Larijani was in Tokyo, he took the opportunity to criticize the US-led proceedings in Warsaw. That’s right – a prominent Iranian politician criticized US actions from the capital of one of the US’s closest allies.
Japan has long been caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to its relationship with Iran. On one hand, Japan is dependent upon its security relationship with the US. On the other hand, it needs cheap crude oil, and it imports plenty of that from Iran. Japan was one of a handful of countries that received a waiver from US sanctions to import oil from Iran in November, after the US withdrew from JCPOA.
Is the timing of Larijani’s visit a signal? After getting dogged so many times by Trump, despite his best efforts to buddy up to him, is Abe finally showing a back bone? Remember that when Trump outed Abe as his Nobel nominator (which generally is not done), someone leaked to the Japanese press the fact that the request originated from the White House. Maybe both of these are signs that Abe has had enough. After all, Trump is extremely unpopular in Japan.