June 28, 2010
Japan-Iran Foreign Relations
Reaction to June 2009 Iranian Presidential Election:
In June 2009, Japan expressed concern over the handling of the security situation following the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a statement, former Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said that "[a] situation that produces casualties should be avoided and our country strongly calls for a peaceful resolution." Following Ahmadinejad’s inauguration in August 2009, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso sent a letter of congratulations to the Iranian president, expressing his hope that Iran will be able to aid in the establishment of international peace.
In 2005, Japan voted to take Iran to the UN Security Council for noncompliance with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations. Tokyo has since voted in favor of all UNSC sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. Kenzo Oshama, Japan’s permanent representative to the UN, said in December 2006 that Iran has refused to comply with the resolutions against its nuclear program and that the situation has worsened since the issue first appeared before the Security Council in 2005. In May 2007, Japan froze the assets of a number of Iranian individuals and institutions for involvement in Iran’s nuclear program and, in January 2008, the country agreed to chair the 2009 UN Sanctions Committee on Iran, which is charged with implementing UNSC sanctions on Iran. In May 2009, Japan said it shared the concerns of the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear program and hoped that Iran would take “positive” steps to resolve the issue through the UN and diplomatic channels. In July 2009, Yukiya Amano replaced Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Following his election to the post, Amano stated that he did not “see any evidence in IAEA official documents” to support claims that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons program. The United States and other Western governments supported Amano’s nomination for the position of director general of the IAEA.
Iran and Japan voiced their readiness at the end of December 2009 to collaborate in the nuclear arena. In a meeting with Japanese Ambassador Akio Shirota, Alaeddin Boroujerdi stated that Tehran would welcome nuclear cooperation with Tokyo. Boroujerdi, who is the chairman of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, also acknowledged that Iran is interested in enhancing ties with Tokyo in all areas, saying that there is great potential for both countries to cooperate for joint benefit. Shirota, for his part, underscored the important role of parliament in bolstering the two countries' relations and noted that "Japan's house of representatives wants [an] expansion of ties and friendly interactions with the Iranian parliament." More specifically, Chairman Boroujerdi has indicated that his country is prepared to accept Japanese investment in Iran’s nuclear sector. During a February 2010 meeting with the Japanese Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Boroujerdi stated that the opportunity exists for Japan to participate in the construction of five nuclear power plants within the Islamic Republic.
In February 2010, Nikkei Business Daily reported that Japan was prepared to offer to enrich uranium for Iran’s nuclear power needs in an attempt to calm international concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada stressed that while the questions around Iran’s program should be resolved diplomatically, he also hoped "that Iran considers a related UN Security Council resolution seriously." According to one reported proposal, roughly 70% of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile would be transferred to Japan and nuclear rods needed for medical purposes would subsequently be delivered to Iran. Previously, in January 2010, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast stated that Brazil, Japan, Turkey, and Iran’s Kish Island are all among the potential sites for exchanging nuclear fuel if the West agrees with Iran’s proposal for a fuel swap in stages.
In May 2010, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada voiced his country’s support for the so-called Tehran Declaration. According to the agreement, signed between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil at the G15 summit in Tehran earlier in the month, Iran would swap 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for 120 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium. Katsuya indicated that the initiative could be useful in resolving the disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program.
Following a June 2010 meeting of the Group of Eight (G8), Japan participated in the issuing of a joint communiqué, in which the member states called on Iran to "respect the rule of law" and expressed their profound concern at the country’s “continued lack of transparency regarding its nuclear activities and its stated intention to continue and expand enriching uranium, including to nearly 20 percent."
Japan and Iran have maintained trade relations since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979. In May 2009, Japanese ministers participated in a conference on foreign investment hosted in Tehran. As one of Iran’s most significant trading partners, Japan’s trade with the country consists primarily of Iranian oil exports, which constitutes roughly $11 billion of the countries’ $13 billion annual trade.
Nevertheless, in September 2009, Kuwait overtook Iran as Japan’s fourth largest supplier of crude oil. That month, Japan’s import of Iranian crude declined to 9.42 million barrels, a contraction of 27.9% from the previous year’s numbers.
In October 2009, Iran asked that Japan only use yen in oil deals between the two countries. The request came after the Iranian Trade Promotion Organization announced a plan to completely exclude the US dollar from all of Iran’s foreign revenues and reserves, instead encouraging all countries to use local currency rather than the US dollar.
In February 2010, it was reported that Japan’s fourth largest oil refiner, Cosmo Oil Company, will reduce its 50,000 barrels per day contract with the National Iranian Oil Company by 10%. The reduction follows earlier announcements from the company, indicating a reduction in the firm’s overall refining capacity and did not appear linked to any political considerations. Nevertheless, according to a March 3, 2010 statement by Iran’s deputy oil minister for international affairs, Hossein Noghrehkar Shirazi, early statistics from 2010 suggest that there will be little or no change in the amount of Iranian crude sold to Japan compared to the previous year.
According to Iran’s charge d’affairs in Tokyo, Mansoureh Sharif-i Sadr, Iran and Japan have had political relations for more than 80 years. Iran and Japan maintain embassies in Tokyo and Tehran despite disagreements over Iran’s nuclear program. Official political ties have continued through both bilateral and multilateral channels, but friction over Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities has impeded friendly political relations in recent years.
Despite differences over Iran’s nuclear program, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hirofumi Nakasone met with Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki in April 2009. Nakasone welcomed Mottaki to Japan for the Friends of Democratic Pakistan Ministerial Meeting and encouraged Iran to take steps to improve its relations with the United States. Mottaki stated that he hoped the two countries could strengthen their bilateral relations.
In June 2009, the G8, of which Japan is a part, held a meeting in Trieste, Italy to discuss security in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the meeting, the foreign ministers of the G8 nations addressed the political turmoil in Iran, demanding “that violence …cease immediately” and called upon Iran to find peaceful solutions to the crisis.
During a July 2009 meeting between Japanese Ambassador to Iran Akio Shirota and Manouchehr Mottaki, the two sides congratulated each other on the eighty-year anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties. Mottaki stated that the two have created a ‘road map’ for future relations and lauded Tokyo’s positive involvement in regional issues. In August 2009, Iranian Ambassador to Japan Seyed Abbas Araghchi echoed this sentiment, stating that “continuation of high-level visits and political interaction with Japan is on the agenda [of the new Iranian administration].” Araghchi also added that improved ties with Tokyo would lead to “better interaction [with] other countries in East Asia, including China and India.”
On February 23, 2010, Shirota held talks with Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. During the meeting, Shirota described Iran as an important country in the region and voiced Japan’s readiness to increase cooperation with Iran in settling regional conflicts. He added that Tokyo is prepared to join Iran in efforts to combat drug trafficking through stricter border guarding. Najjar responded by noting the importance of promoting economic and trade ties and ensuring regional security.
During a five-day visit to Japan at the end of February 2010, Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker of parliament, highlighted positive developments in Japan-Iran economic, cultural, and scientific relations. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada echoed Larijani’s comments, calling for the expansion of bilateral cooperation and praising Iran for its potential significant role in the international arena.
On March 23, 2010, Mottaki and Katsuya spoke at length, discussing opportunities for future cooperation and regional and international developments. During the telephone conversation, Mottaki cited Iran-Japanese interaction on security in Afghanistan as an example of successful bilateral cooperation between the two.
For three years in a row, Japan has honored Iranian citizens with the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Japan presented former Ambassador Dr. Abdulrahim Gavahi, the most recent of the awardees, with the order in May 2010.