National / Politics

Abe avoids sticky Iran, territorial issues in campaign speeches for Japan's Upper House election

JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be avoiding discussing Iran and Japan’s territorial dispute with Russia in his campaign speeches for the July 21 House of Councilors election after failing to achieve tangible progress on the issues in recent opportunities.

“Maintaining a relationship of trust with President (Donald) Trump is my minimum duty,” Abe said in a speech in Ise, Mie Prefecture, on Friday, claiming that the Japan-U.S. alliance remains strong under him and Trump.

Abe also highlighted his chairmanship of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka late last month.

But the prime minister made no mention of Iran or the Tokyo-Moscow talks on resolving their territorial dispute over the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan.

However, after a move by the Trump administration to form a coalition of allies to protect civilian ships in the Middle East, the Japanese government’s response could become a major issue in the Upper House poll, observers say.

“It’s an unwanted initiative, as we are campaigning,” another source close to Abe said.

In mid-June, Abe visited Iran in a bid to mediate between Washington and Tehran. Tensions between the two rivals did not ease, however, and are escalating even further now.

Later in June, Abe held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit, but there was no specific progress on the island dispute.

Initially, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expected to highlight Abe’s initiatives on the two issues during the Upper House campaign.

But one Abe aide now says, “With only limited time for speeches, it’s all right to cover at least the G20 summit among diplomatic topics.”

“People pay attention to pensions, the consumption tax (hike) and the economy,” the aide suggested.

Diplomatic issues have also been marginalized in opposition parties’ campaigns.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan chief Yukio Edano and Democratic Party for the People head Yuichiro Tamaki, in their speeches on Friday in Matsumoto and Chiba, respectively, focused on domestic issues including the public pension system, and neither touched on diplomatic issues.

Abe is considering giving his final campaign speech for the July 21 election in Tokyo’s Akihabara district on July 20, ruling party sources said Friday.

Abe, who doubles as LDP president, will be accompanied by Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, the sources said. Akihabara is one of Tokyo’s most famous areas, especially among young people.

The plan is subject to change because the event is expected to be swarmed by people critical of the Abe administration, the sources said.

Abe delivered his final campaign speech in Akihabara in the 2017 House of Representatives election and last year’s LDP presidential election.

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