• JIJI, Kyodo

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This week’s visit to the Middle East by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was made to show indirect support for U.S. diplomatic efforts toward regional peace, sources said.

“Abe is thinking about nothing but North Korea and he does everything that U.S. President Donald Trump likes,” a source close to the prime minister said, indicating he needed to show indirect support for Washington by serving as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians at a time when the situation surrounding North Korea is changing at a rapid pace. Trump is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by early June.

During the trip, Abe secured visits with leaders from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a rare feat for a foreign leader of a major economy.

In Tuesday’s talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Abe urged him to return to peace talks with Israel and stressed the need to respond to any U.S. proposal, emphasizing the importance of Washington’s role in the Middle East peace process.

Abe, however, failed to get a pledge from Abbas to return to the negotiation table due to the Palestinians’ strong distrust of the Trump administration.

As a result, the trip showed the limits of Japan’s role in the regional peace process as the country is distant both geographically and geopolitically.

But according to a source who went on the trip, few countries could achieve visits by their leader to both Israel and the Palestinians.

Japan secured these visits because of its continued assistance from a neutral position, the source said, insisting that the realization of talks with Abbas was an achievement in itself.

Some observers had suggested that a Middle East visit would be a dangerous move politically, given the heightening tensions that exist ahead of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The meetings made Abe the first leader of a major country to visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories since Trump’s controversial announcement in December that Washington would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Abe and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, met Wednesday and agreed to promote bilateral cooperation on issues related to defense, cybersecurity and the economy.

Israel also agreed to help Japan train cybersecurity experts. Tokyo is trying to tap Israel’s expertise in the field to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japanese officials said.

Abe said his government supports a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the final status of Jerusalem to be settled through negotiations between the concerned parties.

Earlier Wednesday, Abe inspected the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park in the West Bank, a flagship project of the Japanese-led Corridor for Peace and Prosperity development initiative that includes Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

During his five-day Middle East tour, Abe also visited the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. He returned to Tokyo on Thursday.

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