Japanese opposition lawmakers are questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ability to mediate between the United States and Iran amid heightening tensions between them.
Opposition parties are poised to grill Abe and his government over the matter as well as Tokyo's plans to send Maritime Self-Defense Force troops to the Middle East during an ordinary parliamentary session set to start on Jan. 20.
"I can hardly believe the prime minister is fulfilling a mediator's role," Kazuhiro Haraguchi, parliamentary affairs chief of the Democratic Party for the People, said at a meeting of opposition lawmakers on Thursday.
Abe visited Iran in June last year, becoming the first Japanese prime minister in 41 years to set foot in the country.
In Tokyo in December, he told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Tokyo will play as much a role as possible in easing tensions in the Middle East.
Abe's diplomatic effort relies on Japan's friendly ties with both the United States and Iran.
But tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated this year after a US airstrike killed the head of Iran's elite Quds Force. In retaliation, Iran attacked Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces.
Opposition lawmakers are also criticizing the Japanese government's plans to dispatch MSDF troops to the Middle East to help secure the safe passage of Japanese commercial ships in the region.
The dispatch plan "deviates from Japan's longstanding stance of neutrality," said Jun Azumi, parliamentary affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Meanwhile, many members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party threw their support behind Abe's diplomatic effort.
At a meeting on Thursday, a number of LDP lawmakers called for Abe's Middle East tour and the MSDF dispatch to take place as initially planned.
"The prime minister is the only person who can meet and talk with" both U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Kentaro Sonoura, special adviser to Abe. "There is a role to play," Sonoura said.