Netanyahu tells Japan’s Abe to pressure Iran as he prepares for Tehran visit

Japanese PM, set to travel to Iran next week, aims to use his warm relationships with Islamic Republic and US to mediate between the two rivals

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R) and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C-L) pose for a group picture during a meeting with Japanese businessmen at the PM's office in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. (AFP/Abir SULTAN)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R) and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C-L) pose for a group picture during a meeting with Japanese businessmen at the PM's office in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. (AFP/Abir SULTAN)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of the latter’s upcoming visit to Iran.

Netanyahu said he told Abe that it was necessary to maintain pressure on Tehran to counter Iranian expansion in the Middle East.

“I made it clear to him that we must continue to pressure Iran in order to block its aggression in the region,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

“We discussed the great improvement in the relationship between Israel and Japan and the huge increase in Japanese investments in Israel. We will continue to strengthen our relationship,” Netanyahu said.

Japan’s foreign ministry said the two leaders spoke on the phone for 30 minutes. Abe expressed condolences on behalf of the Japanese people for the death of Nechama Rivlin, wife of President Reuven Rivlin, and expressed sympathy to Israelis affected by recent wildfires.

While speaking about the Middle East, Netanyahu and Abe “shared the view to advance mutual cooperation aimed at stability and prosperity of the region,” the foreign ministry said.

US President Donald Trump and First lady Melania Trump attend the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium in Tokyo on May 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Abe is set to travel to Iran next week as Tokyo aims to use its good relations with the Islamic Republic to play a role mediating between Washington and Tehran.

Abe has a warm relationship with US President Donald Trump, who he met with in Japan at the end of May.

During the four-day visit, Trump said he’d back Abe’s efforts to open communication with Iran.

“I do believe Iran would like to talk and if they’d like to talk, we’ll talk also,” Trump said of the initiative.

“Peace and stability of (the) Middle East is very important for Japan and the United States and also for the international community as a whole,” Abe said.

Last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Tokyo.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo May 16, 2019. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

After weeks of spiraling tensions and Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers teetering on the edge of collapse, it is still unclear whether the US and Iran are making any progress toward reconciliation.

A Friday report by Channel 13 news said that Tehran was making back-channel overtures to Washington expressing a willingness to renew talks in a bid to find common ground.

The same report said that Israeli intelligence had identified a significant acceleration of work on the production of new uranium centrifuges, as Tehran prepares for the possibility of boosting enrichment activities.

On Thursday, speaking after talks in northern France with French President Emmanuel Macron, an ardent supporter of diplomacy with Iran, Trump indicated he could consider talking to Tehran.

“I understand they want to talk and if they want to talk that’s fine,” said Trump, who was in France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

“We’ll talk but the one thing that they can’t have is they can’t have nuclear weapons,” he said.

Trump referred to the US sanctions against Iran which are battering the Iranian economy especially since Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea on May 26, 2019. (Jeremiah Bartelt/US Navy via AP)

On Friday, Washington slapped Tehran with new sanctions, targeting its largest petrochemical company for providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at Trump earlier this week, saying “when such a person is the president, this shows the political and moral decline of that country.”

Also on Friday, Iran rejected the notion of reopening nuclear talks, warning that seeking to broaden an existing landmark treaty could lead to its collapse.

Earlier this week, Tehran ruled out new talks with Washington unless it changes its “general behavior,” after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was ready for negotiations with Iran.

Pompeo, too, was reserved, saying Iran must first prove “they are behaving as a normal nation.”

The Trump administration’s hard-line approach with Iran began with the US withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year and continued with punishing economic sanctions on the Shiite state.

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