U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty on Tuesday welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned visit to Iran, saying U.S. President Donald Trump has great confidence in the Japanese leader and that the U.S. hopes he will have “productive engagements that lead to progress.”
The ambassador made the remarks during an exclusive interview with The Japan Times the day before Abe was set to depart for Iran on a three-day trip, amid rising military tensions in the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United States.
“Prime Minister Abe has unique diplomatic access to the leadership of Iran,” Hagerty said at the ambassador’s official residence in Tokyo. “We are comfortable with Prime Minister Abe speaking with Iranians. And we are hopeful he will have productive engagements that lead to progress.”
Abe will meet separately with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Japanese officials have said Abe’s primary goal is to ease tension and prevent accidental military clashes between the two nations.
Earlier the same day, Abe and Trump had a 20-minute telephone conversation regarding the situation with Iran and Abe’s planned visit to Tehran.
Asked if Abe is carrying any message from Trump to the Iranian leadership, the ambassador declined to comment, however. “I don’t want to get into the details of those conversations (between Abe and Trump) … I want to leave it to the prime minister to handle it,” he said.
“I’ve seen him demonstrate great diplomatic skills during the two years I’ve been here,” Hagerty also said.
“He will know how to handle the discussions” with the Iranian leaders, he said.
Details on Abe’s planned trip to Tehran — the first visit by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years — have emerged since Abe and Trump met in Tokyo late last month.
On May 27 in Tokyo, Trump suggested Japan, which has maintained good relationship with Iran for decades, can facilitate U.S. communications with the country.
“I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran, so we’ll see what happens,” he said at the outset of a meeting with Abe that day.
“The prime minister has already spoken to me about that. And I do believe that Iran would like to talk. And if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also,” he said.
Further details from this exclusive interview by The Japan Times will be published later this week.