National / Politics

Abe and Trump discuss Iran ahead of prime minister's landmark Tehran visit

Kyodo, AP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke over the phone with U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, with the pair discussing the situation in Iran a day ahead of Abe’s visit to the Middle Eastern country, the government’s top spokesman said.

“The two leaders exchanged views on regional issues, including the situation in Iran,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

Abe is set to visit Tehran from Wednesday, becoming the first Japanese leader to do so since the Islamic Revolution four decades ago.

During the visit, Abe plans to meet separately with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The trip comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The last Japanese prime minister to visit Iran was Takeo Fukuda in 1978.

A Japanese government official declined to give details of the 20-minute phone call, citing the diplomatically sensitive nature of the topic, but Abe is likely to have reiterated his intention of encouraging Iran, with which Japan has traditionally maintained friendly relations, to engage in dialogue. Trump endorsed such efforts during a visit to Japan late last month.

Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from a 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran and reinstate economic sanctions has 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.

Further escalating tensions, Washington recently dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Persian Gulf, while also deciding to send additional U.S. troops to the region.

News of the Abe-Trump conversation came as Yukiya Amano, head of the U.N. atomic watchdog, urged world powers to continue dialogue with Iran to keep it in the 2015 deal aimed at preventing the country from building nuclear weapons, and to help defuse mounting tensions in the region.

After his regular update to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors in Vienna on Monday, Amano told reporters that Tehran had increased its uranium enrichment activities as it threatened it would.

He said Iran’s low-enriched uranium “production rate is increasing,” but it wasn’t clear yet whether it has exceeded the limitations set in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“I am worried about increasing tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue,” Amano said. “As I have constantly emphasized, the nuclear-related commitments entered into by Iran under the JCPOA represent a significant gain for nuclear verification. I therefore hope that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue.”

He would not elaborate on what kind of talks were necessary, saying that was a “political matter,” and would not comment on whether he thought the U.S. should return to the JCPOA itself.