Staff writer

Japan will extend an invitation to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to make an official visit to Tokyo as early as the second half of next year, amid growing signs of an improvement in the international situation surrounding the Persian Gulf nation, government sources said Friday.

The sources also said that Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura will visit Tehran at the earliest possible date next year — probably sometime next summer — to prepare for Khatami’s Japan visit. If Khatami comes to Tokyo, he will be the highest-level Iranian leader to have done so since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

In his meeting later this month with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi will extend an invitation to Khatami to make an official visit to Japan as soon as possible, although he will not give a specific timing, the sources said.

The sources also said that the Iranian foreign minister is expected to ask Obuchi to visit Tehran at the earliest possible date. Although Obuchi will appreciate the request, his Iranian visit will not materialize at least until sometime in 2000, the sources said.

Kharrazi is to arrive in Tokyo on Dec. 21 in the first Japan visit by an Iranian foreign minister in nearly 11 years, since Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati visited Tokyo in 1987.

Komura’s planned visit to Tehran sometime next year will be discussed at a meeting between Komura and Kharrazi this month, the sources said. If Komura makes the visit, he will be the first Japanese foreign minister to do so in nearly eight years.

The last Tehran trip by a Japanese foreign minister was made by Taro Nakayama in May 1991, only several weeks after the end of the Persian Gulf War between the United States-led multilateral forces and Iraq, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

The government sources also said that State Foreign Secretary Nobutaka Machimura will visit Tehran around February. Foreign Minister Komura also visited Iran when he was still a state foreign secretary in April.

The Iranian government faces increasingly dire fiscal conditions because of lower revenues from oil exports amid the continued slump in oil prices on the global marketplace. Kharrazi is expected to ask Japan for cooperation in relieving its huge external debt-repayment burden.

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