WASHINGTON – In mid-July, as tensions between the United States and Iran continued to simmer, the possibility of Japanese participation in a U.S.-led maritime coalition to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz became a hot topic of debate in Tokyo, even before the Japanese government publicly confirmed that the U.S. had asked for its assistance. When U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited Tokyo earlier in August, he requested Japan’s participation in such a maritime coalition. Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya informed Esper that Japan would make a decision after considering various factors, including Japan’s need to ensure its energy security, maintain its positive ties with Iran and be a good ally to the U.S.
Japan-Iran relations have been generally positive in the past, driven in large part by Japan’s energy needs. Even though Japan was not a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in July 2015, it was eager to take full advantage of the new opportunities this agreement represented. As early as October 2015, then-Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was in Tehran to discuss a bilateral investment treaty and how Japan could help Iran implement the JCPOA by establishing an Iranian “nuclear safety center.”