Weeks after PM nixed Japan trip, Lapid meets top Tokyo ministers

Weeks after PM nixed Japan trip, Lapid meets top Tokyo ministers

Rare meeting between Blue and White no. 2 and Japan’s foreign and defense ministers follows reports country was incensed by Netanyahu’s sudden cancellation last month

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Japanese FM Taro Kono, left, hosts MK Yair Lapid in Tokyo, August 19, 2019 (Courtesy)
Japanese FM Taro Kono, left, hosts MK Yair Lapid in Tokyo, August 19, 2019 (Courtesy)

Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid met on Monday with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya in Tokyo.

The unusual meeting between an opposition MK and two top cabinet ministers of a foreign power comes days after a report claimed Japanese authorities were angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having canceled a planned trip to the country on short notice several weeks ago.

In a video sent to reporters after his meetings, Lapid said his talks focused on bilateral cooperation and on various security-related matters, including the Iran nuclear accord.

“We have to do a much better job at explaining why the Iran nuclear deal endangers world peace,” he said.

Lapid’s “courtesy call” with Kono lasted about 20 minutes, according to a readout provided by Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

Kono told Lapid that he “appreciates Israel’s significance for Japan in the area of cutting-edge high-technology, noted that a regular direct flight service between Israel and Japan will start next year, and hoped that this will lead to increased people-to-people exchanges,” the readout stated.

The two also discussed “bilateral relations, the regional situations in East Asia and the Middle East, and Israel’s domestic situation, among other matters.”

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya gifts a clock to MK Yair Lapid, Tokyo, August 19, 2019 (courtesy)

Lapid’s meeting with the Japanese ministers is reminiscent of his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 6, just five days before the last elections.

Lapid, a self-styled shadow foreign minister, is slated to become foreign minister in case Blue and White forms the next government. After two and a half years, he expects to be named prime minister, in accordance with a rotation deal with party leader Benny Gantz.

On August 12, Haaretz’s veteran political commentator Yossi Verter reported that Netanyahu’s office had recently requested a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Abe agreed, and cleared his schedule for July 29, according the report.

Haaretz said Japanese authorities were so forthcoming that they even carried out preparatory work that would have usually been done by Israeli officials, who couldn’t do so due to a strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

After most of the preparations had been completed, and merely 10 days before Netanyahu’s scheduled arrival, his office suddenly canceled the visit, according to Verter.

“Just like that, as though nothing had happened. Tokyo was in shock. Shock, accompanied by anger and humiliation,” he wrote.

An Israeli source who participated in the planning for Netanyahu’s trip later told the paper that it had not been canceled but merely postponed.

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