The administration distanced itself Tuesday from the brewing controversy stemming from a visit by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Iran, which was carried out over government objections.
Hatoyama was quoted by Tehran as criticizing the International Atomic Energy Agency for “applying double standards” to the country in his talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the former prime minister denied making such comments after he returned to Japan on Monday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference that Hatoyama, having visited Iran in a “private capacity,” should “settle the matter (on his own) by protesting to the Iranian side.”
Hatoyama told a group of reporters later Tuesday that he has urged the Iranian Embassy in Tokyo to seek a correction to the presidential office’s announcement.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, meanwhile, expressed discomfort over Hatoyama’s trip to Iran, reiterating that it was “really unrelated to the government” and that the Democratic Party of Japan “didn’t ask” him to go.
The foreign minister said he talked with Hatoyama over the phone on Monday night after the former prime minister returned.
“I told him that I would like him to be thoroughly aware that he is a former prime minister,” Genba told reporters, suggesting he is concerned that the visit may have resulted in dual diplomacy differing from the policies of the current administration.
Despite the government’s repeated calls not to visit Iran at a sensitive time, Hatoyama pushed ahead with the trip, saying he wanted to “personally” try for a peaceful resolution of the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s presidential office on Sunday quoted Hatoyama as saying the IAEA’s treatment of certain countries, including Iran, is “unfair,” but Hatoyama, who belongs to the DPJ, said reporters later in Tokyo that Tehran “completely fabricated” his comments, calling it “regrettable.”
Hatoyama’s trip also triggered criticism from the opposition camp.
Toshimitsu Motegi, policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, on Monday accused Hatoyama of allowing himself to be used by the Iranian presidential office.
“We knew for sure he would be exploited and he was treated in the way that was expected,” Motegi said in Sendai. “Mr. Hatoyama, whose diplomatic skills are not trustworthy, is of course to blame, but the government and the Democratic Party of Japan, which failed to prevent him from visiting Iran, are also heavily responsible for what happened.”
Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary general of the LDP, said Tuesday that opposition parties will grill administration and DPJ officials about Hatoyama’s trip, which he called damaging to the national interest.
Hatoyama was the first DPJ prime minister after the party came to power in September 2009. He stepped down in June 2010, partly due to criticism of his inept handling of the security relationship with the United States.
According to the Iranian presidential office, Hatoyama and Ahmadinejad agreed to try to realize a world free of nuclear weapons.
In a news conference after meeting with Ahmadinejad, Hatoyama said he told the Iranian president that Japan has “devoted every effort to earn the trust of the international community for more than 50 years” to prove its resolve not to possess nuclear weapons, and urged Iran to maintain its efforts to remove any suspicion that it is developing such weapons.
Hatoyama quoted Ahmadinejad as saying Iran plans to propose a concrete plan to break the deadlock over its nuclear program at the next round of talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.