Japanese Premier Arrives for Talks

Shinzo Abe aims to promote peace and stability in the region, while raising Japan’s profile ahead of the Group of 20 Summit on June 28-29
Japanese Premier Arrives for Talks
Japanese Premier Arrives for Talks

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received a stately welcome at Tehran’s Sa’dabad Complex on Wednesday and sat down for talks with President Hassan Rouhani. 
Abe, the first Japanese leader to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, will meet the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Thursday.
Before departing for Tehran, Abe said his country aims to do "as much as it can" to ease tensions and promote peace and stability in the Middle East, as a brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States stokes fear of another military conflict in the region.
"There are concerns over rising tensions in the Middle East. While the situation attracts the attention of the international community, for peace and stability in the region, Japan wants to play a role as much as it can," Abe told reporters at Tokyo's Haneda airport before his departure, Kyodo News reported. 
"To ease tensions, I'd like to have a frank exchange of views," Abe said. 
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, hours before the Abe-Rouhani meeting. 
Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharply increased in recent weeks, a year after the United States abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, which curbed Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
On a four-day visit to Japan last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Abe's help in dealing with the Islamic Republic, highlighting what he called the "very good relationship" between Tokyo and Tehran.
As a US ally that also has good diplomatic relations with Iran, Japan could be in a unique position to mediate between the two countries.



‘Significant’ Player

During his meeting with Zarif, Kono called Iran a "friendly" country and a "significant" player in the region, IRNA reported. 
"We believe less tension in this important region benefits everyone," he said, adding that Japan is ready to take every step possible to help de-escalate tensions. 
Zarif called Japan a great partner in the political, economic and cultural fields, and welcomed the visit by the country's senior officials. 
He also criticized the United States for launching an "economic war" and a "propaganda campaign" against the Iranian nation. 
The trip gives Abe a rare opportunity to raise his diplomatic profile ahead of the Group of 20 Summit in Japan on June 28-29 before an election for the upper house this summer, according to Kyodo News. 
The challenges for Abe appear to be manifold, including efforts to help bridge the rift between them. 
Japanese officials say Tokyo's aim is to ensure stability in the Middle East, a critical factor for resource-scarce Japan. Iran had long been one of the major oil exporters until the United States ended its sanctions waivers granted to Iranian crude buyers, including Japan. 
Despite pushing for imports to continue, Japan has stopped importing oil from Iran for now to avoid US sanctions.
In addition to securing the backing of the US president for his efforts to reach out to Iran, Abe also spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.


‘Great’ Mediator 

A senior Iranian official has told Reuters that Japan could help defuse growing tensions between Tehran and Washington. 
"Japan can help in easing the ongoing tension between Iran and America ... As a goodwill gesture, America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions or extend the waivers or suspend them," the unidentified official said. 
"Mr. Abe can be a great mediator to facilitate that [easing of oil sanctions]... Japan has always respected Iran and Mr. Abe can play a very constructive role to calm the ongoing tension that can harm the [Middle East] region," said another Iranian official, who asked not to be named.

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