Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, June 14, 2019, 2:26 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.
Minister Kono’s Visit to Mongolia
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I will visit Mongolia from June 15-17. I heard that it will be the first Foreign Minister’s visit in 9 years since 2010. I will hold a meeting on June 16 with Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar, and also plan to pay courtesy calls on some key figures.
In light of Japan-Mongolia Relations, which is positioned as an important strategic partner, I would like to further strengthen cooperation in various fields including politics, economics, culture, and people-to-people exchange. I would like to extensively exchange opinions on regional affairs including the situation surrounding North Korea as well.
Situation in Iran
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask you about the attack on a Japanese tanker, which occurred yesterday near the Strait of Hormuz. You spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo today, so what exchange did you have regarding this incident? Also, before talking with you, Secretary of State Pompeo had clearly asserted that the Government of Iran is responsible. What is your understanding of the situation? Also, how do you make of the fact that the incident occurred while you were coming back from Iran?
Minister Kono: I held a talk on the phone with Secretary of State Pompeo this morning, and we exchanged opinions regarding my visit to Iran as well as the incident in the Strait of Hormuz. We would like to identify what actually happened through exchanging information with related countries including the United States and carefully consider future actions.
Asahi Shimbun, Kihara: The US Department of Defense released a video which purportedly suggests the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the tanker attack. At the press conference on April 9th, you have clearly stated that Japan does not follow the United States in blacklisting IRGC as a terrorist organization. Considering the suggested involvement, what are your thoughts on the possibility of coming into line with the United States?
Minister Kono: Since we are in the middle of exchanging information with related countries including the United States, at this point, we would like to carefully examine what have actually happened there and the future risks.
Asahi Shimbun, Kihara: On the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IRGC is introduced as part of the Iranian military, so I would like to ask you again about how the Japanese government position IRGC.Is it considered as a part of the Iranian military?
Minister Kono: Exactly.
PanOrient News, Azhari: Are you satisfied about the result of your visit to Iran and the negotiations there? What do you think about the prospects of the Japanese initiatives for promoting peace and stability in the Middle East? And in the same regard, did you invite President Rouhani to attend G20? Lastly about the attack on the tankers, do you think it targeted Japan since one of the tankers was related to a Japanese company?
Minister Kono: It was the first time the Japanese Prime Minister met with the Supreme Leader of Iran. Furthermore, the Prime Minister also met President Rouhani, and I think those meeting were very fruitful. We reconfirmed our relationship and the leaders discussed issues concerning the tension in the Middle East. President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader of Iran said that they are not developing nuclear weapons and that they have no intension of doing so, and they said that they will seek peace in the region. So the meeting was very fruitful and we will continue dialogue with Iran to ease tensions. As for the accident in the coast of Oman, we are still gathering information on what really happened. I am not aware whether President Rouhani has been invited to the G20 Summit.
Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: Foreign Minister Zarif criticized Prime Minister Abe’s diplomacy by calling it ‘sabotage diplomacy’, regarding it in the same light as what they call ‘the B Team’.
Minister Kono: Who is criticizing?
Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: Foreign Minister Zarif. On Twitter. (Note: Afterwards, the reporter corrected the question because it was based on their mistranslation.)
Despite taking the trouble to go to Iran to mitigate tensions, there was extremely strong opposition including the statement by Supreme Leader Khamenei yesterday. What are your thoughts on the reason?
Minister Kono: Sorry, but I am not aware of the tweet by Foreign Minister Zarif. We understand that Supreme Leader Khamenei re-stated the Iranian side’s consistent position, so we do not recognize that there was strong antagonism, and I believe the meeting took place in a very harmonious atmosphere.
Kyodo News, Saito: In relation to this, I think it is necessary for the Japanese government to listen to the explanation from the Iranian side as well in identifying the facts regarding the tanker incident. I would like to ask if you thoroughly understand the Iranian position at present, or if you are prepared to have an opportunity to listen to them?
Minister Kono: We are currently exchanging and sharing information with related countries including Iran and the United States.
Asahi Shimbun, Higashioka: I would like to ask another question about Iran. I believe that the responsibility for the rise of tensions in Iran is not only attributed to Iran but also to the United States. Do you consider to request the US side to make efforts not to exacerbate tensions? Or did you have such conversation during your talk with Secretary of State Pompeo?
Minister Kono: I held a telephone call with Secretary of State Pompeo today, and coordination is currently being conducted for a telephone call between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump. I would like to refrain from making public comments on the content of the talk at this point.
Washington Post, Kashiwagi: I would like to ask two questions. There are reports from the Japanese government’s side that the release of the American hostages was taken up as a request from the US side at the meeting, but is this true? Also, if that’s true, what was the reaction of Iran?
One more question, as was asked earlier, what is the reaction of the Japanese government on the fact that the attack on the tankers occurred during the visit to Iran by Prime Minister Abe? Are you disappointed?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from commenting on the content of the meeting. We are currently exchanging and sharing information with related countries with regards to the tanker issue.
NHK, Koizumi: You stated earlier in English that you would like to continue holding dialogues, as the Prime Minister has made a similar remark, but Iran has been stating that they would not hold a dialogue with the United States and they are still making harsh comments even after the Japan-Iran Summit Meeting. Considering the situation, and also considering the fact that the United States is also criticizing Iran, can you please explain what Japan will do, and in what form will it pursue a dialogue?
Minister Kono: Our understanding is that Iran’s statement express their consistent position. I think the Iranian side has been saying that a dialogue under the sanction is not an option for them.
As the very first meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Supreme Leader was held, Japan would like to continue dialogue with Iran.
Demonstrations Opposing Amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in Hong Kong
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I would like to ask about the clash between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong. In terms of the amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, does the Japanese government, which supports “one country, two systems”, believe that the amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance contributes to the democratization of Hong Kong?
Minister Kono: Hong Kong is an important partner with close economic relations with Japan, and I believe that a free and open Hong Kong society is extremely important for the economic development of Asia including Japan, as well as regional development. Japan is watching the current developments in Hong Kong with a great deal of interest. I was personally distressed to hear that some people got injured.
In any event, I believe that maintaining a free and open system under “one country, two systems” is the foundation of Hong Kong’s democratically robust development. Therefore, Japan will continue to look into the situation carefully with great interest.