Iran's Rouhani visits Japan amid nuclear deal impasse

Iranian president holds talks with Japanese PM Abe in Tokyo on future of crumbling landmark 2015 agreement.

    Prior to Rouhani, the last Iranian president to visit Japan was Mohammad Khatami in 2000 [Charly Triballeau/Pool via Reuters]
    Prior to Rouhani, the last Iranian president to visit Japan was Mohammad Khatami in 2000 [Charly Triballeau/Pool via Reuters]

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has renewed his condemnation of the United States for pulling out of a landmark nuclear agreement and asked for Japan's help in efforts to maintain the unravelling deal during a visit to Tokyo.

    Rouhani, the first Iranian president to visit Japan in 19 years, told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the pair's meeting on Friday that the nuclear accord signed in 2015 by Iran and several other world powers remained crucial despite the US' unilateral withdrawal last year.

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    "The nuclear deal is an extremely important agreement, and that's why I strongly condemn the United States' one-sided and irrational withdrawal," Rouhani said.

    "We hope that Japan and other countries in the world will make efforts toward maintaining the agreement."

    The deal, which is formally known as the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been on life support since the US withdrawal in May 2018 and its decision to reimpose punishing sanctions on Iran.

    Tehran has since taken a number of steps away from the accord designed to pressure the remaining signatories - the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia - to deliver on JCPOA's promised economic benefits.

    For his part, Abe urged Iran to honour the nuclear deal and expressed concern about rising tensions in the Middle Eastthe source of more than 80 percent of Japan's oil.

    "I strongly expect that Iran will fully comply with the nuclear agreement and play a constructive role for peace and stability in the region," the Japanese prime minister said.

    During closed-door talks held later on Friday, Abe expressed "grave concerns" over Iran's resumption of nuclear activities and urged Rouhani "to stop such acts", The Associated Press news agency quoted Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Okada as telling reporters.

    Japanese mediation

    As a key US ally that also maintains close diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, Japan has tried to build bridges between the two rival powers under Abe's leadership.

    The Japanese leader travelled to Tehran in June, in an unsuccessful effort to encourage Iran and the US to hold talks to reduce tensions. Abe's visit coincided with attacks on two oil tankers - one of which was operated by a Japanese shipping company - in the Gulf that the US blamed on Iran. Tehran denied it was behind the attacks.

    US sanctions block Iran from selling crude oil abroad and have crippled the country's economy, with surging fuel prices prompting tens of thousands of Iranians to take to the streets as part of bloody anti-government protests.

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    Japan had been a major buyer of Iranian crude but stopped purchases to comply with the US measures.

    Japanese officials have said it would be difficult for Japan to resume purchases of Iranian oil if Rouhani asks because sanctions are still in place.

    Abe's government is expected to imminently announce a contentious plan to send its military to the Middle East to ensure Japanese oil tankers' safety. Local media have said the operation will be approved by Abe's cabinet as soon as next week.

    The planned Japanese operation is set to cover high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but not the Strait of Hormuz. It is not expected to be part of a US-led mission to protect shipping in the region.

    Sending warships to areas of military tension is a highly sensitive issue in Japan because its pacifist post-World War II constitution strictly limits the use of force by the military. Abe, however, has gradually expanded Japan's military role in recent years.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies