Is it a signal? Iranian pol visits Japan while Pence tears into regime

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.

Trump to Japan’s Abe: “Please nominate me for a Nobel Prize!”

The world collectively snickered in 2018 when it became apparent that someone had nominated President Donal Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for his no-results summit meeting with ruthless North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un.

Now it turns out that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated Trump for the Nobel, as announced by Trump during his “national emergency” news conference on February 2015. As news outlets pointed out soon after, Abe’s nomination of Trump actually came at the request of the White House.

Abe and Trump have seemingly got along well due to Abe’s enthusiastic efforts to get on Trump’s good side. Abe was the first foreign leader to meet the new President-elect Trump in November 2016 when he visited Trump Tower.

But Trump ungratefully repaid that visit by scrapping the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) after his inauguration, a trade pact upon which Abe had spent a lot of political capital trying to get his pessimistic constituents to accept.

This led Abe to raise the ante in kissing up to Trump. In Feb 2017, he was Trump’s dinner guest at the president’s club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, when Trump started discussing the news about a North Korean missile launch during dinner, within open earshot of club members. He then had Trump over to Japan in Nov 2017 for some burgers and golf.

Trump repaid these overtures by adding Japan to the list of states to be covered by his steel tariffs in the spring of 2018, though it turns out Japan was later added to the long list of states that were exempted. He scolded Abe on Japan’s trade balance with the US, and then announced the summer 2018 North Korea summit without so much as letting Abe in on the secret.

So what did Abe do in return for all this? He nominates Trump for a Nobel Prize (once again, upon the request of the White House). Trump abused Abe once more when he outed Abe as the nominator in that Feb 15 press conference, without mentioning that he or his aides had requested the nomination.

Maybe Abe is finally learning his lesson that Trump can’t be trusted however. Someone from his inner circle no doubt leaked to the Japanese press the fact that the White House requested the nomination for their fragile egoistic leader. Moreover, Abe strategically met with a notable Iranian politician in Tokyo at the very moment that US Vice Pres Mike Pence was excoriating Iran at an anti-Iran summit in Warsaw (covered in the next entry!).