National / Politics

Concerned about escalating Iran-U.S. tensions, Japan offers to work with Tehran as minister visits

Kyodo

Japan on Thursday expressed concern about a tense standoff between Iran and the United States over an international nuclear deal and offered to work with Tehran to defuse tension in the Middle East.

“We are concerned that the situation in the Middle East is getting extremely tense,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the outset of their meeting in Tokyo.

Zarif traveled to Japan, a key U.S. ally that has maintained amicable ties with the Middle Eastern nation, at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is ramping up pressure on Iran through tighter sanctions and an apparent show of force by leaving the 2015 nuclear accord.

During a separate meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Kono, the Iranian foreign minister called the “escalation” of the situation by the United States “unacceptable” and said Tehran has exercised “maximum restraint” despite the development.

Tehran last week reacted to Washington’s moves by announcing the suspension of some commitments under the deal, which was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Zarif told Kono that Iran remains committed to the deal and sought international support to maintain the accord, but added “(We) will certainly defend ourselves and respond to any threat against our national security.”

Kono also expressed his concern to Zarif about the situation and promised to “spare no efforts to ease tensions and try to resolve outstanding issues.”

The two agreed on the importance of maintaining the nuclear deal, with Kono saying, “It is essential to maintain this scheme, not only for our bilateral relations but also for the international nonproliferation regime and peace and stability in the Middle East.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, Abe also expressed hope that Iran will keep its commitments under the deal.

On May 8, Iran announced it plans to keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear deal initially sealed with the United States, France, the U.K, Germany, Russia and China. Tehran has set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms.

Tension has also grown with Washington sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf.

For energy-scarce Japan, Iran has been a source of oil imports, but this month the United States ended waivers granted to Japan and other buyers in a bid to choke off Tehran’s oil revenue.