Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was preparing to leave Friday for Tehran, where he hopes to leverage Tokyo’s friendship to cement progress made in talks with world powers over curbing Iran’s nuclear drive.
Kishida was scheduled to meet Saturday with his Iranian opposite and make a courtesy call on moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been in talks with other nations in Geneva, said Friday it may be possible to reach a deal that could see Tehran freeze its disputed nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.
The issue will likely dominate meetings in Tehran, and Kishida is expected to press home the view that “Iran should respond to mounting international expectations of the Rouhani administration,” a Foreign Ministry official said.
“As this window of opportunity is open for only a limited period, Iran should proactively show flexibility to solve the problem and restore trust among the international community,” he said.
Western powers suspect Iran’s uranium enrichment program is part of a plan to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this and insists it is entirely peaceful.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was to travel to Geneva on Friday to join the talks “in an effort to help narrow differences in negotiations” and at the invitation of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a senior State Department official said.
Upending an 11-day tour mostly of the Middle East, Kerry was due to arrive in Switzerland later Friday for the talks that dragged on for years until Rouhani came to power in August.
Iran is anxious for relief from crippling economic sanctions that have cut oil revenue by more than half, caused the value of its currency to plunge and pushed inflation above 40 percent.
The West is also keen to seize a rare opportunity to build bridges with Iran after decades of hostility, opening the door to engaging with Tehran on other issues, including the conflict in Syria, where Iran has backed President Bashar Assad against insurgents.
Japan, which is heavily dependent on Middle East oil, has maintained friendly relations with Iran through its years of ostracism, keeping up a diplomatic dialogue that many developed countries cut off decades ago.
But since Rouhani took office in August, hopes have been raised of an end to the long-running crisis, especially after a round of hectic diplomacy during the U.N. General Assembly in September.
That set up a series of meetings, including the one in Geneva this week with the so-called P5 plus 1 — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany.