Japan’s Abe urges Iran to play ‘constructive role’

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, waves to well-wishers upon his departure at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on June 12, 2019 for a two-day visit to Iran. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Japan’s Abe urges Iran to play ‘constructive role’

  • Japanese PM said an armed clash 'must be avoided' as he met Hassan Rouhani in Tehran

TEHRAN: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Tehran to play a “constructive role” for Middle East peace Wednesday during a rare diplomatic mission to the Islamic republic aimed at defusing US-Iran tensions.

Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.

Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions - which have forced Tokyo to halt its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil - and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.

“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

“Today, tension is rising in the Middle East. Some experts point out that the conflict might be triggered accidentally, said Abe.

An armed clash “must be avoided by all means,” the premier stressed.

The “peace and stability of the Middle East is indispensable for the prosperity not only of this region but of the entire world.

“Japan wishes to play an utmost role in its capacity to ease the tension. This is the one single thought that brought me to Iran," he added.

Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a “very positive change” in the Middle East and the world if the United States stops its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions.

“We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response,” the Iranian president added.

Abe began his visit to Iran on Wednesday, the first by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years, with the stated aim of defusing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Japan stopped importing Iranian crude oil in May to comply with US sanctions against Iran.

The Asian powerhouse has an interest in keeping the Middle East stable in order to ensure the flow of cheap hydrocarbons to fuel its economy.

Rouhani said he saw “Japan's interest in continuing to buy oil from Iran and fixing financial issues” as a “guarantee” for the ongoing development of bilateral ties.

The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said “both of us are against.”

The Japanese premier is expected to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Thursday morning.

Abe discussed “the situation in Iran” in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said.

The Japanese prime minister won Trump's blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month.


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.