TEHRAN/YOKOHAMA – Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed opposition to a U.S coalition scheme to patrol the Strait of Hormuz when he met Wednesday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a diplomatic source said.
The comment can be interpreted as a strong message toward Japan not to participate in the coalition.
While some countries such as Australia and the U.K. have announced they will take part in the coalition, Japan has remained ambiguous on the matter, caught between its alliance with the United States and traditionally friendly ties with Iran.
According to the source, Zarif told Abe that the stationing of foreign military forces in the region would not enhance safety in the Strait of Hormuz and could instead put stability in the Middle East in peril.
Zarif and Abe also discussed the situation of Iran’s crude oil exports, currently hard-hit by a U.S. embargo. As it faces a sharp decline in national revenues, Iran has called for suspension or easing of the sanctions. Zarif had a similar discussion when he held talks with Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday, the source said.
Stability and safe passage in the Strait of Hormuz — located at the exit of the Persian Gulf — is vital for Japan, which relies on the Middle East for 90 percent of its crude oil.
Iran has argued that it and neighboring countries should be responsible for ensuring safety in the region, rejecting interference from outside countries.
In response to the U.S. request, Tokyo has said it is exploring what role it can play in safeguarding ships in the strait — a key sea lane through which around one-fifth of the world’s oil passes — while not impairing its long-standing friendship with Iran.
On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga appeared to deny that talks on the coalition took place when Abe met Zarif on Wednesday. He said Japan will make a judgment on the issue after weighing various factors, such as stable crude supplies and U.S.-Iran relations.
A Kyodo News survey this month showed that over half of voters oppose dispatching Self-Defense Forces personnel to the Middle East to join the coalition.
Tensions between Iran and the United States remain high. Tehran has pushed its uranium enrichment activities to beyond the level agreed on in the nuclear deal after the United States re-imposed sanctions on the country.
Japan has urged Iran to stick to commitments under the deal, from which the United States withdrew last year.
In the meeting with Zarif, Abe also called on Iran to exercise restraint over the country’s reported readiness to raise its uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity, which would pave the way for diversion to nuclear weapons, as early as September.
Abe plans to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani late next month in New York, as Japan seeks to play a role in easing tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the United States, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.