TOKYO - Japan on Monday gave one of its former prime ministers a ticking off over a "personal" visit to Iran where he apparently said the IAEA was not being fair to Tehran over its nuclear programme.
Yukio Hatoyama, whose short stint in the top job ended in June 2010 after just nine months, was publicly admonished by his own party after reportedly criticising the UN's nuclear watchdog for "double standards".
During a trip in which he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hatoyama said Tehran was not being treated properly by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"International trust-building and respecting regulations are important issues for the world community," he said, according to a statement issued by Ahmadinejad's office.
"They should be seriously pursued given the double standards by the IAEA towards some nations, including Iran, which is not fair."
Hatoyama's comments came under fire on Monday from Tokyo, which said he was at odds with the official position.
"Japan respects the IAEA's role in solving nuclear-related issues," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.
"Japan is asking Iran to thoroughly cooperate with the IAEA so that it can solve pending issues over its nuclear programme."
Hatoyama, who has emerged as something of a loose cannon since being forced from office, was already under a cloud for the trip after Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba expressed concerns that it could undermine international action against Tehran.
"The (Japanese) government is taking a consistent position that it would be better if he had not gone (to Iran) at a time like this, even if it is a personal trip," Fujimura said.
The West, led by the US, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons and is pressing ever-tighter sanctions against the regime. Tehran insists its atomic programme is peaceful and purely for energy.
Ahmadinejad told Hatoyama on Sunday that Iran opposes nuclear weapons, his official website reported.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is fundamentally opposed to the atomic bomb and weapons of mass destruction," Ahmadinejad told Hatoyama.
"Iran and Japan can exert a common effort to create a world without atomic weapons... Difficult but humanitarian efforts will win in the end."
Talks between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany are due to start Saturday in Istanbul.
Hatoyama, the millionaire scion of an influential family, swept his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to a stunning election victory in September 2009, ending more than half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule.
But his short-lived premiership was blighted by a reputation for crippling indecision.
Despite his status as a senior adviser to the DPJ, he has struggled to find a role in public life since joining the ever-swelling ranks of former Japanese prime ministers.