Foreign Policy Blogs

Can Japan Do a Better Job Negotiating with Iran?


Jalili with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. (Image courtesy of IRNA)

The recent visit to Japan by Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, has some analysts now considering the prospect of a Japanese-led effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. By all accounts the visit was a success. The Iranian envoy was receptive to Japan’s case for a civilian nuclear energy program and expressed interest in further cooperation on the implementation of such a program and future exchanges on the topic.

This has prompted some analysts to entertain the idea of Japan stepping out in front of the negotiations and taking on a larger share of the diplomatic heavy lifting.

According to one article at STRATFOR:

“A Japanese proposal is an idea that the various players in the Iranian controversy would at the very least consider. Japan, as mentioned, has every reason to avoid a war that could deal a powerful blow to its already weak economy, and its new government could use a boost by appearing important in world diplomacy. The International Atomic Energy Agency would be close at hand to work with the Japanese and Iranians, given that its new director general, Yukiya Amano, is Japanese. The Americans and Europeans would approve, since it would have one of its closest allies taking a lead role in working with the Iranians and perhaps getting better insight into their program.”

Whether or not Japan is willing or able to take on a bigger part remains to be seen. But it does appear to be a viable alternative to what otherwise seems an entrenched and largely ineffective round of negotiations.

China, however, does not share in Japan’s need for urgency. Just yesterday the Chinese envoy to the UN flexed its muscle (once gain) by objecting to tougher sanctions now under consideration by the Security Council, effectively stymieing any real repercussions for Iran’s recalcitrance. This is a potent reminder of the complex calculus involved in the Iranian negotiations, and should underscore the fact that tangible progress, to say nothing of a coherent strategy, remains on the distant horizon.



David Fedman

David Fedman is a PhD student in the History Department of Stanford University where he focuses on modern Japanese and Korean history. He lives in San Francisco, California.