NEW YORK – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke critically on Tuesday about recent attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, describing them as an “extremely contemptible crime,” while refraining from joining other nations in naming Iran as responsible for the strikes that have roiled the Middle East.
In his address at the U.N. General Assembly, Abe sought a delicate balance — showing his country’s desire to maintain its long-standing amicable ties with Iran in the face of U.S. pressure, while also denouncing the Sept. 14 military action against Saudi targets.
“The attack on Saudi Arabia’s crude oil facilities was an extremely contemptible crime that holds the international economic order hostage,” Abe said.
Iran has seized the spotlight as global leaders gather in New York for the General Assembly to pursue diplomacy amid what is seen as a heightened risk of military clashes in the Persian Gulf.
U.S. President Donald Trump used his speech on Tuesday at this year’s event to blame Iran for the recent strikes, as Washington continues to apply pressure on Tehran after the U.S. withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The U.K., France and Germany have also singled out Iran over the attacks.
Tehran denies any involvement in the strikes, for which Yemen’s Houthi rebels immediately claimed responsibility.
The General Assembly speech — Abe’s seventh — came months after he made a rare visit to Iran in hopes of easing the intensifying standoff between Tehran and Washington.
Abe praised as “precious” a pronouncement made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran does not plan to “possess, produce or use” nuclear weapons.
“It is my own unchanging role to call on Iran as a major power to take actions that are grounded in the wisdom derived from its rich history,” the prime minister said.
Abe also renewed his determination to realize a face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it was an “unchanging objective” for Japan to resolve Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile and abduction issues and normalize ties.
He threw his support behind Trump’s approach toward North Korea, saying it had changed “the dynamics” surrounding the country as he pursued summit talks with Kim.
“I am determined to meet Chairman Kim Jong Un myself, face-to-face, without attaching any conditions,” Abe said. Resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s is a top priority for the leader.
In a departure from his past speeches at the United Nations, Abe did not mention any of Japan’s neighboring countries apart from North Korea. He did not touch on South Korea; bilateral ties with Seoul have deteriorated to their poorest state in years over issues related to wartime forced labor and trade.
Previously, the prime minister has used his addresses in New York to lay out his diplomatic policy visions and goals. A year ago, for example, he expressed his resolve to advance peace treaty negotiations with Russia and improve ties with China.
Abe has sought to build a personal rapport with Trump, who maintains an “America First” policy agenda and questions multilateral arrangements. The two leaders are expected to reach a bilateral trade deal when they meet Wednesday.
In his roughly 15-minute speech, Abe said Japan remains committed to multilateral frameworks and globalism as a way to reduce disparities following the entry into force of an 11-member TPP agreement and Japan’s free trade pact with the European Union.
“The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is now poised to reach agreement with Japan’s contribution serving as a propelling force,” he said of another proposed pact, which involves the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with six partners including Japan and China.
The promotion of free trade has been a major theme through recent gatherings under frameworks such as the Group of Seven and Group of 20. Japan hosted the G20 summit this year in Osaka, where Abe managed to secure a commitment from his counterparts — including Trump — to “free, fair and non-discriminatory” trade.
“In recent years I chaired the G7 and G20 summits as well as the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD, three times,” Abe said, adding, “Multilateral frameworks do indeed have that role as a leveler.”
Abe also rallied support for Japan’s bid to serve as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council in the upcoming 2022 election. Japan is among countries vocal about reform of the international body, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
Education is at the core of Japan’s international engagement, Abe said, noting that the country seeks to be a “foster power” that helps to nurture human potential. He stressed the importance of empowering women and girls to make society more inclusive.