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Abe’s Thankless Task in Tehran

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and President Trump. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Golnar Motevalli and Isabel Reynolds report on the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Iran and what can be expected to come from it:

“I don’t think he will be able to re-start talks between the U.S. and Iran, or get the U.S. to soften its line on sanctions or Iran to accept some of the U.S. demands. It won’t be anything like that,” an energy expert with ties to the Abe government said.

Abe will listen to the Iranian leadership’s requests and convey U.S. thinking to them, which will maintain the dialogue regarding the nuclear agreement, said the expert, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the visit.

Abe has been put in an awkward position by Trump, and because Abe wants to maintain a good relationship with the president he is going along with it. While he can convey messages between the two governments, it is doubtful that those messages will say anything significantly different from what Iran and the U.S. have been saying publicly. He is not empowered to negotiate on behalf of our government, and it would be inappropriate to entrust that role to the head of a foreign government in any case. At best, he is stuck passing notes in class between two adversaries. Trump knows the price of entry if he wants negotiations with Iran, namely rejoining the JCPOA and ending the economic war, but he has so far been completely unwilling to consider paying it. Iran knows the administration’s demands and considers them to be unacceptable. A mediating third party can’t bridge a gap when neither side will budge from its position, and Iran has no reason to change its position when they are the wronged party in this dispute. It is up to the U.S. to make amends and reverse its actions over the last thirteen months, and that isn’t going to happen while Trump is president. Abe has been given a thankless task, and it isn’t going to end the current impasse.

Instead of putting one of our allies in the absurd position of being our go-between, the next administration should open direct channels of communication with the Iranian government. If our governments need to convey messages to one another, it is much more efficient and makes much more sense to do this using our own officials. If U.S. officials can meet with representatives of the North Korean government, they should at least be able to talk to representatives of the Iranian government. Opening a direct diplomatic channel and establishing a military deconfliction channel would allow the U.S. and Iran to communicate with each other without having to rely on intermediaries, and it would prevent misunderstandings and accidents from creating another war scare. Ultimately, the goal should be to establish full, normal diplomatic relations that would allow our governments to discuss and resolve outstanding disputes as virtually all other governments everywhere do as a matter of course. It is ludicrous that the U.S. and Iran still don’t have normal relations after 40 years, and restoring them would go a long way to reducing the tensions between our governments.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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