Criticism by a Cabinet minister of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's energy policies may say more about his own political prospects than it does about the country's debate over clean power.

Taro Kono, whom Abe appointed foreign minister last year, used a speech Sunday in the United Arab Emirates to dismiss as "lamentable" Japan's clean energy targets. Kono's comments, which come just days after he told his own energy task force that touting ideals that don't match reality was like "tending bonsai in the garden while your house overflows with trash," have injected political tension into Japan's push to draft new energy policies.

The blunt speech fueled talk of an eventual leadership bid by the foreign minister, who has been mentioned as a possible Liberal Democratic Party chief since his surprise appointment in August. While Kono's enthusiasm for unpopular ideas like cutting spending on the elderly have led some to see him as an eccentric, the Georgetown University graduate's confidence on the global stage — and self-deprecating Twitter feed — have won fans. By wading into energy policy, Kono could tap into a potential base of political support while setting himself apart from other LDP members. Kono, 55, has campaigned for phasing out nuclear power — a topic of intense debate since the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns — in contrast to the drive by Abe's government to restart nuclear plants to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.