Japan and Relations with Washington and Tehran – Difficult Equation

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS)

A difficult approach is one that Japan is trying to adopt through a strategy that seeks to maintain balanced relations with the United States of America on the one hand, and Iran on the other.

And recently, Tokyo announced the dispatch of destroyer and patrol aircraft to the Middle East, specifically to the “Arab Sea” region, to ensure the security of maritime trade routes in it, in anticipation of any sudden conflicts in light of the escalating tension between Washington and Tehran.

The move comes in light of American pressure and efforts to form an international security alliance to protect maritime navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than 20 percent of the world’s crude oil passes, which Iran threatened to close in response to Washington’s sanctions.

The announcement of the transmission coincided with a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Gulf countries for 5 days, which started Saturday and will continue until Wednesday, and includes Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Oman.

Japan is the world’s third largest economic power, and a close ally of Washington, which imports about 90 percent of its oil needs from the Middle East, according to the local newspaper, The Japan Times.

Japan’s imports from the Middle East are not only limited to oil, but also to petrochemical products, and, according to government statistics, get about 17 percent of its imports of aluminum alloys from the Middle East.

This means that it is not in its interest and that it will not be able to bear the consequences of further tension in a region that has already witnessed unrest during the past year, between Washington and its Saudi and UAE allies on the one hand, and Iran on the other hand, after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

There were also fears of a worsening of the situation, especially after the assassination of Iranian commander of the “Quds Force” Qassem Soleimani, and other leaders, in a US air raid under instructions from President Donald Trump in Iraq.

Tehran responded with missile strikes that targeted two military bases hosting American soldiers in western and northern Iraq.

– “Bowing” to US pressure –

The Japan Times, in a report published in December 2019, said that Tokyo found itself under pressure from US President Donald Trump, to join the security alliance, with the aim of easing what the latter considers the burden of defending the interests of allies in the Middle East.

Japan, despite its refusal to join that alliance, has chosen to send a “independent” military mission to the waters off Amman and Yemen, in order to protect its commercial ships in the region, according to the newspaper itself.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has previously said that Tokyo will not join the US-led coalition, but “will cooperate closely” with Washington.

“I think Tokyo had no choice but to bow to American pressure,” the newspaper quoted Asamo Miyata, head of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, as saying.

He added: “Japan was in a critical position, since it could not reject all Trump’s proposals, but at the same time did not respond to the risk of a good relationship with Iran, which means that the deployment of troops separate from the coalition forces (led by Washington) was the best option.”

“In fact, the fact that Tokyo did not join the US coalition is a good sign from Iran’s point of view, but the main catalyst for sending a self-defense force was Trump’s request to Japan, which is also very worrying” for neighboring countries, he added.

It is worth noting that the decision to send a destroyer and patrol aircraft to the Middle East was approved on December 27, 2019, by the Japanese government.

A move that Tokyo said was aimed at “playing a role in maintaining peace there, without joining a Washington-led coalition to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz,” according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

– Keen on good relations with Iran –

Kyodo news agency reported in a report published last Thursday that Tokyo made the decision to implement an independent operation and not to join the alliance to avoid damaging its “friendly relations” with Iran.

The agency added that the areas of operations would be limited to the Gulf of Oman and the Bab al-Mandab strait that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, with the exception of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, due to Iran’s opposition to the initiative led by Washington.

In the same context, the newspaper “The Japan Times” said in a report published on Friday that “the Self-Defense Forces unit sent by Japan will be independent, but it may provide intelligence information it collects with the patrols led by Washington in the Gulf.”

It also quoted Japanese officials as saying that Tokyo had communicated well with Tehran and Washington, both of which gave it the green light to send its military unit.

On Thursday evening, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono spoke by telephone with his Iranian counterpart Amir Hatami, to explain to him his country’s plan regarding the dispatch process.

Kono said, in media statements at the headquarters of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, that the Iranian counterpart’s response to the plan was not negative, according to the newspaper “The Japan Times.”

– Abe Gulf Tour –

Before heading to Tokyo airport to start his tour to the Gulf, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, in media statements, that his country “will take its own initiative to conduct peace diplomacy, in order to calm tensions and achieve stability in the region.”

He added, according to local media reports, including Kyodo Agency, that he wanted to win the support of the three countries regarding the process of sending the Self-Defense Forces unit to the region due to the importance of ensuring the safety of the Japanese commercial ships operating there.

On Saturday, the Japanese Prime Minister arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in the first stops of a 5-day Gulf tour that includes the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.

It should be noted that Japan was one of the main importers of Iranian oil, before the imposition of US sanctions on Tehran, and analysts say that Tokyo’s energy security depends on stability in the Middle East.

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