TOKYO: Japan’s foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, is setting off on Sunday on a 10-day tour of seven Middle Eastern countries. He will visit Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Iran and Qatar before returning to Tokyo on Aug. 24, the longest tour of the region by a Japanese foreign minister.
The highlights of the trip will be meetings with at least three presidents in the region – Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Motegi is planning to meet the incoming foreign minister of Iran, even though that official has yet to be officially appointed. Motegi will also announce new economic aid to Palestine and will hold talks with his counterpart in Qatar to enhance security and political/military bilateral exchanges.
High ranking MOFA officials told Arab News Japan that the objectives of this tour are reaffirming Japan’s long-standing commitment to the Middle East and strengthening ties with Middle Eastern countries and the region generally. They said that Motegi will be confirming the importance of international order based on the rule of law to realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” in an indirect reference to what Japan considers the one-sided changes to the status quo attempted by China in the Far East.
Officials said Motegi intends to hold “candid talks” on regional affairs and ensure close cooperation leading towards stability in the region. They added that tensions in the region remain high with the Middle East peace process hitting a snag and the Iranian nuclear issue still unclear. He will also confirm cooperation on various efforts to “build back better,” addressing the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Motegi arrives in Egypt, the first leg of his journey, he will affirm Japan’s intention to enhance its cooperation with the country, recognizing the “central role” Egypt played in the ceasefire agreement in May between Israel and “Palestinian militants,” the officials said. Motegi will also confirm cooperation with Egypt regarding support for the Grand Egyptian Museum.
Motegi will meet Ahmed Abu Gheit, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, and is expected to hold a joint press conference with him.
On Aug. 17, in Palestine, Motegi will reaffirm Japan’s support for Palestine amid the deterioration of the Palestinian economy due to persistent conflict and the COVID19 pandemic. Motegi will visit the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park (JAIP), the flagship project of the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative. He is planning to hold a meeting with his counterpart Riyad al-Maliki in a signing ceremony for Japanese economic assistance. The restoration efforts of Hisham’s Palace, the Umayyad ruins near Jericho which Japan supports, will be on the agenda, as well.
Israel, which the foreign ministry in Tokyo describes as the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East,” will be a key part of the tour, and the new Israeli government is seeking to improve relations with Japan. Motegi will make a courtesy call on its president and hold talks to strengthen cooperation over a wide range of fields, including the economy, according to the officials. Motegi will visit the Holocaust Museum and meet the new Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid.
Motegi will move on to Amman, where he will hold talks with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, to further strengthen relations between Japan and Jordan, which is regarded by Motegi as “a vital force for the region’s stability,” Arab News Japan was told.
In Turkey, a key strategic partner of Japan, Motegi will also confirm cooperation over a wide range of fields aimed at strengthening regional peace and stability. The officials said that Turkey is an essential geostrategic player and one of the most important members of NATO, a factor which makes the country very close to Japan.
In Iran, Motegi plans to meet the newly appointed Iranian foreign minister. It is expected that Motegi will know who the new FM is by the time he arrives in Tehran. The Japanese foreign minister will call on his counterpart and other “key persons” in Iran to take “constructive measures including in regard to the nuclear issue, easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East.” The officials said that Japan will call on Iran to return to the nuclear agreement and hold direct talks with the six parties.
“There is a gap the Japanese FM hopes it will be possible to at least begin to bridge between the two countries this time. Japan will call on Iran to return to the talks as soon as possible and proceed constructively.”
Qatar will be the last leg of his tour, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Motegi will seek to enhance relations in the economic sphere, especially as regards the stable supply of the LNG. Qatar provides Japan with 12 percent of its total requirements of LNG, which makes Qatar a critically important partner to Japan, the official said. They will also discuss ways to strengthen relations from the standpoint of security. When asked to elaborate on security issues, a high-ranking Japanese official said that this will involve bilateral cooperation in dealing with terrorism, information exchange, and defence dialogues. These discussions may also include the topics of security mechanisms and political-military dialogue. Japan and Qatar have expressed interest in increasing the frequency of such meetings.
Motegi will travel in a specially chartered plane during the tour, and since the trip will not be dependent on commercial air travel, this will enable him to manage the rapid pace of the different legs of his journey more smoothly and efficiently.
The officials said that Motegi plans to announce additional assistance for the Palestinians, including food grant aid. He will also express readiness to provide COVID-related assistance if needed. Motegi will leave Doha at noon on Aug. 23 and arrive back in Tokyo on Aug. 24 in the morning.