German FM, Japanese PM to meet Iran’s Rouhani

Netanyahu speaks to Shinzo Abe before trip.

HEIKO MAAS  (Reuters) (photo credit: REUTERS)
HEIKO MAAS (Reuters)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Monday, a German diplomatic source said, as part of a concerted European effort to preserve Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers and defuse rising US-Iranian tensions.
Germany, France and Britain maintain that the nuclear pact remains the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a potential pathway to the development of nuclear weapons, and to seek agreement with Iran on other security issues in future. The US withdrew from the pact last year.
Maas warned during a weekend stopover in Iraq – en route to Tehran – about the dangers of any conflict with Iran for the entire Middle East.
“We Europeans are convinced that it is worth trying to keep the Vienna nuclear agreement with Iran,” Maas said, adding he wanted dialog even when disputes seemed insurmountable.
Washington has sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what US officials call Iranian threats to US troops and interests in the region.
Last month, Iran scaled back some commitments under the 2015 deal and warned that in 60 days it would resume refining uranium to a higher fissile degree than that permitted by the accord if Europe failed to shield its trade benefits from US sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted by Fars news agency on Sunday as saying Maas’s trip to Tehran showed Germany was trying to “keep the (nuclear deal) alive.”
But, suggesting Tehran did not view Maas as a mediator between Tehran and Washington, he added: “It is unlikely that the German foreign minister is traveling to Tehran to carry a special message.”
The German foreign minister will also meet Zarif in Tehran.
Japan, meanwhile, is also arranging for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Iran in the near future, Japan’s government spokesman said on Thursday, although details of the trip are being worked out.
Japanese media has said the visit would take place next week, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to specify a date or say whether Abe would meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
“We will make efforts to make it meaningful,” Suga told a regular news conference about the trip, which would make Abe the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in more than four decades.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Abe on Friday, and the Japanese premier – according to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office – briefed Netanyahu before his trip to Tehran. Netanyahu said that there was a need to continue placing pressure on Iran to put brakes on its aggressive behavior in the region.
On a visit to Japan late last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran after public broadcaster NHK had said Japan’s leader was considering a trip to Tehran.
Japan is keen to see stability in the Middle East as the bulk of its oil imports come from the region, although it recently stopped buying oil from Iran because of US sanctions.
Diplomatic experts said the most Abe could probably achieve would be to persuade Iran and the United States to resume direct talks and dial down tension.
Both sides may be seeking a face-saving way out of the confrontation, they said, and Abe is well placed to help out.
Japan and Iran have long had friendly ties and are celebrating the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. Abe has forged warm relations with Trump.
“The best that Abe can say is to propose to Iran’s supreme leader to sit down with the US president without any pre-conditions,” said a former Japanese diplomat who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Trump, speaking on a visit to London, said on Wednesday that he was prepared to talk to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but there was always a chance of US military action against the Islamic Republic.
Trump has condemned the Iran nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering its ballistic missile program and its role in conflicts around the Middle East.