Japan offers US-Iran mediation and Tehran is willing to listen

Tehran is prepared to hear out Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he visits Iran in mid-June to offer mediation in the Islamic Republic’s dispute with the United States, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘mediation’ and expressing readiness to reduce tension, however we would listen to views of other countries that have good intentions and follow events in the region with concern,” Seyyed Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters Tuesday when asked about Abe’s visit.

Mousavi said the Japanese PM’s visit “could be a turning point in Iran-Japan relations”.

Tokyo’s state broadcaster NHK reported Tuesday night: “Japanese officials have begun final adjustments for the mid-June meetings with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.”

In a joint press conference with Abe in Tokyo on Monday, US President Donald Trump told reporters Washington is not interested in regime change in Tehran, but warned that obtaining nuclear weapons is still a red line.

“I’m not looking … to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say ‘no nuclear weapons’. It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership. We’re not looking for regime change,” Trump said.

Iran has repeatedly said it is not interested in holding negotiations with US until the sanctions re-imposed on its economy and oil sector last November are lifted.

Before the sanctions were reintroduced, Japan was one of Iran’s biggest oil customers. Enjoying close relations both with Washington and Tehran, Tokyo could play a critical role in defusing tensions.

The US has upped the ante on Iran in recent weeks, deploying an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf, with and a further 1,500 troops and fighter jets to come in the near future. The show of military might came in response to an unspecified threat posed by Iran and its Iraqi proxies.

Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018, claiming it did not prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Nor did it stop Tehran interfering in regional affairs.

Iran is expected to hold nationwide rallies on Friday to denounce Israel and the US, which could raise tensions with Washington further.

The Iranian government holds the so-called ‘Quds rally’ on the last Friday of Ramadan each year to call for the liberation of Jerusalem.

Iranian hardliners often burn an effigy of the sitting US president and the flags of Israel and the US.