The prime ministers of Japan and Israel compared notes Monday about living near countries with suspected illicit nuclear weapons programs, with Benjamin Netanyahu calling on the international community to keep pressure on Iran.
In a joint statement released with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the two men also “expressed their strong hope for the early resolution of various issues of concerns regarding North Korea, including its nuclear development.”
Speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting, Netanyahu, on the second day of a five-day trip to Japan, said Abe had told him in no uncertain terms that Japan was facing a very real threat from North Korea, which observers say is preparing for a fourth nuclear test.
“The same words — ‘clear and present danger’ — certainly apply to the Iranian nuclear program as well,” he said.
“Like North Korea before it, Iran wants to keep its military capabilities, military nuclear capabilities while easing the sanctions that are applied to it.
“We cannot let the ayatollahs win,” Netanyahu said.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate power for civilian purposes.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will begin talks in Vienna on Tuesday when they start drafting the text of a comprehensive and potentially historic deal.
An accord would de-fang Iran’s atomic program with a drastic reduction in scale. In return, all UN Security Council sanctions and additional unilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s lifeblood oil exports would be lifted.
Japan, which depends heavily on Middle Eastern oil, has maintained friendly relations with Iran through its years of ostracism by the West.
Also on Monday, in an official meeting in Oslo between President Shimon Peres and Norway’s King Harald V, Peres called for sanctions against the Islamic Republic to continue.
“The diplomatic efforts and economic sanction on Iran from the international community send a signal, but the sanctions and heavy pressure on Iran must continue until the threat is removed,” he said.
Israel resolutely backs efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a weapon, and becoming a “center of global terrorism,” much as the rest of the world, he added.
Peres received a royal welcome in Oslo, with hundreds of schoolchildren and a military procession set to greet him. The church bells played the iconic “Jerusalem of Gold” song in honor of his visit.
Netanyahu and Abe also “confirmed the necessity of cooperation in the field of cyber-security and… affirmed the importance of bilateral defense cooperation,” according to the statement.
“They concurred with the visit of officers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to Israel.”
Abe is pushing for Japan’s well-equipped and well-trained military to take a more active role in world affairs, a strategy he has dubbed a “proactive contribution to peace.”
Under the current constitution the Japanese military can only fire if fired upon, but Abe would like to expand the scope of their activities to include so-called “collective self-defense”.
The issue is controversial in Japan where the post-World War II commitment to pacifism runs deep.
Agreements to carry out officer visits to friendly nations are the kind of baby steps the Abe administration hopes will eventually lead to greater acceptance of the nation’s military, nearly seven decades after its total defeat.
In a brief reference to the moribund Middle East peace process, the joint statement said: “Both sides emphasized the necessity for achieving peace through a ‘two-state solution’ toward stability and prosperity of the Middle Eastern region.”
“Prime Minister Abe called upon all concerned parties to further endeavor to advance the direct negotiations and expressed his intention to make best efforts for achieving peace.”
In his Norway visit, the president also referenced the stalled negotiations, referencing the Oslo Accords and the country’s contributions to securing a peace agreement.
“We are trying to extend the peace process with the Palestinians, despite the current problems on both sides. Hard work is required on both sides, and the negotiations are designed to bridge the differences,” he said.
Negotiations collapsed last month after two opposing Palestinian factions buried the hatchet, ending years of bitter rivalry but angering Israel which refuses to talk to the hardline Hamas.
Netanyahu, who is in Japan until Thursday, is expected to meet Japanese business leaders on Tuesday. His trip is expected to be heavily weighted towards hi-tech trade between the two countries.