“Japan cannot afford to have friction with the US simply because of the threat that is posed by North Korea and, more importantly and over the longer term, China,” Jun Okumura, an international relations analyst with the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, told DW last July, after Abe canceled a planned trip to Iran.
Read more: Trump’s Japan visit: Shinzo Abe’s calculated pampering of a president
Spiraling US-Iran tensions
Iran is currently locked in a bitter standoff with Washington. Last year, Trump withdrew the US from the landmark nuclear deal that Iran and six world powers struck in 2015.
Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions, aimed at putting an end to Iran’s oil exports and inflicting economic pain as part of the US’ “maximum pressure” campaign.
The US also recently stopped granting six-month waivers to Iran’s main oil export partners, a move aimed at choking off the last remaining sources of Iranian oil revenue.
The Trump administration’s moves have elicited a strong backlash from Tehran, prompting it to suspend some of its commitments under the deal. In May, Iran said it would keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear accord, and set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms.
Read more: US to end sanctions waivers for Iranian oil imports
Japan was one of the top consumers of Iranian oil but the country has now stopped buying due to US sanctions. A country with no known reserves of fossil fuels, Japan is heavily dependent on imports of oil and gas, particularly from the Middle East.
Nagy said that Japan’s relations in the past were based on “energy diplomacy,” which the US tolerated because Japan does not have its own fossil fuel reserves. According to Japanese government data, Iranian oil comprised 5% of Japan’s total supply before tighter US sanctions were introduced.