While Iran appreciates Japan’s friendship, it is also wary of Tokyo’s close relationship with Washington, said Koichiro Tanaka, an expert on Iran at Keio University. He said that Tehran might require a peace offering from Mr. Abe in the form of a demonstration that he is willing to stand up to American sanctions.
Japan is also late to the game. Despite mounting concerns in the international community over the last decade about Iran’s behavior, Japanese officials chose not to participate in the negotiations that led to the 2015 deal to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions.
While that decision created space for Tokyo to pursue an independent policy toward Tehran, it has also limited Mr. Abe’s ability to play a role in resolving disputes over the deal.
Yukio Okamoto, a former Japanese diplomat and policy adviser to past Japanese prime ministers, said the world powers that sat at the table with Iran for all those years might be inclined to “sneer” at Mr. Abe’s efforts, asking “why should he step into what we’ve been toiling over, as a newcomer.”
Still, Mr. Abe has little to lose.
If anything, the trip could improve his standing at home as the country heads into elections for the upper house of Parliament next month. He wants to establish his legacy “by advancing Japan’s foreign and domestic agenda,” Mr. Okamoto said, and the Tehran visit offers an opportunity.
But while Mr. Abe has been an active advocate of Japan abroad, Mr. Okamoto added, he has “yet to show the public concrete solutions to several important issues, especially with Russia and North Korea.”
The Japanese leader has sought to insert himself in the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear program, offering to meet with the country’s leader with no preconditions. And he has aggressively courted the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, in an attempt to end a decades-old territorial dispute over islands in Japan’s north.