An Iranian newspaper has printed a front page image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast – a reference to America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II – meant to criticize the Japanese prime minister’s close ties with the US ahead of his visit to Iran.
The daily Farheekhtegan, or The Educated, followed it up with a large headline in both English and Farsi, saying: “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?”
News outlets in Iran immediately picked up the front page from the paper, published by students of Islamic Azad University, which has campuses across the nation. On Wednesday, Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Abe’s trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate tensions between the US and Iran as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.
Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade level on July 7 if European allies fail to offer new terms for the nuclear deal.
While President Donald Trump says he wants to talk to Tehran, the US has piled on sanctions that have seen Iran’s currency, the rial, plummet, along with Iran’s crucial oil exports.
The US also has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region, along with hundreds of more troops to back up the tens of thousands already deployed across the Middle East.
Abe will arrive in Tehran on Wednesday afternoon as an interlocutor for Trump, who recently visited Tokyo. Abe will hold talks with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his visit.
Abe acknowledged the challenge ahead just before he boarded his airplane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
“There are concerns over rising tension in the Middle East region,” he said. “Japan wants to do as much as possible toward peace and stability in the region.” Japan had once purchased Iranian oil, but it has now stopped over American sanctions.
However, Mideast oil remains crucial to Japan and recent threats from Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, has raised concerns.
Iran’s nuclear deal – agreed to at the time by China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the US – saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.
In withdrawing from the deal last year, Trump pointed to the accord not limiting Iran’s ballistic missile program and not addressing what American officials describe as Tehran’s malign influence across the wider Mideast.
Those who struck the deal at the time described it as a building block toward further negotiations with Iran, whose Islamic government has had a tense relationship with America since the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and subsequent hostage crisis.
Trump spoke Tuesday with Abe, said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary. Suga declined to give any details about what they discussed.