Japan PM Abe says visit by Iran’s Rouhani being arranged

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday his country is arranging a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because it wants to play a greater role in resolving a nuclear impasse between Tehran and Washington and in relieving tensions in the Middle East, the source of more than 80 per cent of Japan’s oil.

Japan, a United States (US) ally that has traditionally had friendly relations with Iran, seeks to serve as a mediator between the US and Iran, a role that is also expected by the international community, Abe said.

He did not give details of the visit.

Local media have reported that it is being arranged for later this month, before or after Rouhani’s planned visit to Malaysia to attend an Islamic leaders’ conference.

Tensions have escalated between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

Abe, who has developed friendly ties with Trump, travelled to Iran in June in an unsuccessful effort to encourage Iran and the US to hold talks to reduce tensions. Sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran which block it from selling crude oil abroad have crippled its economy, and Tehran has gradually reduced its commitment to the nuclear deal.

“Japan will do its utmost to relieve tension in the region and stabilise the situation through persistent efforts to hold a dialogue,” Abe said.

“From the point of view of energy security, it is only natural for Japan to play a role to contribute to the peace and stability in the Middle East, while securing safe navigation for Japanese vessels.”

Abe’s government is also set to approve a contentious plan to send its military to the Middle East to ensure the safety of Japanese vessels transporting oil from the region.

The Japanese troop dispatch, however, will not be part of a US-led coalition protecting Middle East waterways, officials said.

Sending warships to areas of military tension is a highly sensitive issue in Japan, where the pacifist post World War II constitution strictly limits the use of force. Abe, however, has gradually expanded Japan’s military role in recent years.