Faisal J. Abbas & Ali Itani
RIYADH: Japan is on the same page as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman in reducing regional tension with Iran, Tokyo’s foreign ministry spokesman told Arab News on Saturday.
“It’s hard to tell what the thought process is in Iran of course, but I think we will simply have to keep trying,” said Ohtaka Masato, the ministry’s director-general for press and public diplomacy.
“I think this is the time when it would be useful for Japan to compare notes with likeminded countries, and I think Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman, they are among the important countries that we would like to exchange information and views with on the current situation.”
Ohtaka spoke in an interview with Arab News Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Riyadh for a Middle East tour. The Oman leg of the tour will go ahead as planned despite the death on Friday of Sultan Qaboos, Ohtaka said.
“The royal families have their own connections and theoretically we have to consult … in Japan to discuss who will be officially representing Japan in expressing condolences,” he said.
Japan sees a role in helping to deliver Saudi Vision 2030. “There’s much that we can do,” Ohtaka said. “I’m sure this will be one of the important subjects for our prime minister during his visit here.”
The relationship between Prime Minister Abe and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “very close. It’s getting even closer and closer. Through this visit this time, we’re hoping that we can even further elevate the level of closeness between the two leaders.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Ohtaka also discussed Japan’s plans to send naval vessels to the Gulf, and the tragedy of the Ukrainian passenger plane shot down by an Iranian missile.
The deployment of Japanese maritime assets “needs to be understood correctly,” Ohtaka said. “This will be for information gathering, for the self-defense Japanese role in the region in the future. So, this itself does not directly constitute what you might call monitoring activities in the region.”
The shooting down of the Ukrainian plane near Tehran, killing all 176 on board — which Iran admitted on Saturday after three days of denial — was “a very sad situation, and it's very regrettable that this happened,” Ohtaka said. “We are hoping that things will be made clear by the Iranian side as to what exactly happened, and that there will be some steps taken to make sure that the same thing will not repeat itself in the future.”
“We are very closely in touch with … the US, but we’re also closely in touch with Iran, and this enables us to play a diplomatic role, and I think this will continue.