President Trump recently made an overt offer to engage in talks with Iran.
During his trip to Japan, Trump voiced his support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to act as a mediator between Washington and Tehran. Abe reportedly plans to visit the Iranian capital next month for talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran so we’ll see what happens,” said Trump.
The idea of using Japan as a go-between with Iran is not necessarily the most obvious option, but it may prove to be a clever one for two reasons. First off, Japan, while firmly allied with the United States, is not perceived to be a strong enemy of the Tehran regime. This is probably because Japan hasn’t been marred in Iran’s eyes by the politics surrounding the Iran nuclear deal in the same way the U.S. and Europe have been.
The second reason is relatively straightforward: Iran and Japan are on pretty good terms. Since formalizing ties in the early 20th century, the two countries have maintained strong bonds for almost one hundred years—the period of the Second World War being a notable exception. Business is the factor that keeps relations between Tehran and Tokyo strong. And the trade balance is one which is heavily in Iran’s favor. While Japan exports automobiles and electrical products, Iran provides huge quantities of oil and petrochemical products to Japan and is the country’s third largest energy provider.
Trump prefers talks to the possibility of war. This is not the first time that the president has offered to talk with Iran. But not surprisingly, the Mullahs are not as keen on talking as Trump would like. Using a “neutral” party like Japan to mediate may be the administration’s best bet.