Iran General NewsClose encounters of the diplomatic kind: Ex-PM Hatoyama eyes...

Close encounters of the diplomatic kind: Ex-PM Hatoyama eyes Iran trip

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Wall Street Journal: Japan’s diplomatic dealings with Iran are likely to require an experienced and delicate touch in the current fraught geopolitical climate, with oil prices rising as the U.S. pressures Tehran over its suspected nuclear-arms development. The Wall Street Journal

By Toko Sekiguchi

Japan’s diplomatic dealings with Iran are likely to require an experienced and delicate touch in the current fraught geopolitical climate, with oil prices rising as the U.S. pressures Tehran over its suspected nuclear-arms development.

Enter former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who will visit Tehran over the weekend as the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s “supreme diplomatic adviser” despite his less-than-stellar record in international statecraft.

Mr. Hatoyama, famed for his eccentric fashion choices and dubbed “The Alien” by the Japanese press for his otherworldly demeanor, stepped down as prime minister in June 2010  due in part to his bungled handling of the country’s relationship with its most important ally – the U.S.

Mr. Hatoyama, the DPJ’s first premier when the party came to power in 2009, failed to deliver on a controversial promise to relocate a U.S. military base off the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, with his missteps in both local and international politics causing uproar in Okinawa and a chill in relations with Washington.

Japan’s relationship with Iran is no diplomatic backwater. The former is sharply curbing its reliance on nuclear energy following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis last year, and Iranian crude accounted for 8.7% of Japan’s oil imports in 2011. Tokyo recently won an exemption from U.S. sanctions against Tehran in exchange for agreeing to draw down its oil imports from the Middle Eastern country.

It’s unclear exactly what Mr. Hatoyama hopes to achieve during his visit, and any major diplomatic shifts are doubtful– unlike in the U.S., former leaders have a minor influence on Japanese politics and the “supreme adviser” title perhaps holds more weight than the actual role.

Some lawmakers were less than diplomatic about the move:

“I am sure that his visit will do absolutely no good. I urge you to stop him, even if it means holding him in a full nelson,“ Ichita Yamamoto, a lawmaker with the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said during a parliamentary session Thursday.

In a sign that the government is not exactly thrilled about Mr. Hatoyama’s planned visit, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told Mr. Yamamoto that the former leader was neither representing the government nor the ruling party, adding that he had tried to convince Mr. Hatoyama to rethink his trip.

“I don’t disagree with you. And it’s not as though we have not made such efforts,” Mr. Gemba said. “Ultimately, it’s an action by an individual.”

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the same parliamentary session that Mr. Hatoyama’s visit to Iran comes at a “delicate time,” but said he hoped the former DPJ leader would seek “restraint” from Tehran on its nuclear program, in line with Tokyo’s official stance.

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