“Abe is in Tehran with Trump’s blessing, and he has access to the highest level of Iranian leadership,” Shihoko Goto, senior Northeast Asia associate at the Wilson Center in Washington, told DW.
“Abe’s visit to Tehran represents a new development for Japan on the global stage,” she said. “Abe is eager to play the role of honest broker, especially ahead of Japan’s Upper House election next month. It would catapult Japan into a role that it has not played in the past, as it seeks to encourage dialogue between two sides now seemingly at a deadlock.”
A symbolic visit?
While Abe’s visit is seen by some as an effort to mediate between the US and Iran, some experts remain skeptical about the potential for any breakthrough.
“I do not believe that Shinzo Abe’s trip to Iran can change 40 years of enmity between Iran and the US. Like the German foreign minister this week, he will return to Japan unsuccessfully and empty handed,” a Tehran-based Iranian political analyst, Sadegh Zibakalam, told DW.
This view is shared by Stephan Nagy, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University. Japan’s friendly relations with both Tehran and Washington put Tokyo in a good position to facilitate dialogue, albeit with limitations, he told DW.
Read more: Opinion: In Tehran, diplomatic hope dies last
Nagy said that Japan was not in a position to “bridge the massive security divide between Iran and the US.” Moreover, the expert added, “Japan is allergic to the idea of nuclear weapons,” and Iran’s nuclear ambition limits the scope of what Japan would be willing to accept diplomatically.
The Iran trip will put Abe’s diplomatic skills to the test, as Tokyo has limited room for maneuver to engage in an independent foreign policy vis-a-vis Tehran. Japan relies on the US for its security and for Abe, maintaining Tokyo’s security relationship with Washington is top priority.