• Kyodo


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Iran from June 12, the government said Thursday, the first trip to the country by an incumbent Japanese prime minister in over four decades.

Abe apparently hopes to mediate between the United States and Iran, and encourage dialogue between them in a bid to ease tensions.

He is expected to stress the importance of an international nuclear deal reached in 2015, even as the United States has withdrawn from it and Tehran said last month it would suspend some of its commitments under the accord.

The government outlined the plan at a meeting of members of a Lower House steering committee. Abe is scheduled to return to Japan on June 14.

The trip comes after Abe secured backing last week from U.S. President Donald Trump for his efforts to reach out to Iran, with which Japan has maintained an amicable relationship.

No sitting Japanese prime minister has visited Iran since the Islamic Revolution. The last leader to make the trip was Takeo Fukuda in 1978.

Arrangements are being made for Abe to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian supreme leader, and President Hassan Rouhani.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono will also travel to Iran for talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, prior to Abe’s arrival, according to a Japanese government source.

Abe’s trip comes as the countries celebrate their 90th year of diplomatic relations.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Tokyo with Trump in late May, Abe suggested he wants to make efforts to facilitate discussions between Washington and Tehran “so that things will not go wrong and lead to a military clash” in the Middle East.

Tensions have spiked in the region following Iran’s move to suspend some commitments under an international nuclear deal, in response to Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the deal and reinstate economic sanctions, while Washington has stiffened its stance on Tehran.

In May, Iran said it will keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear accord and set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms.

Washington has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, and decided to send additional U.S. troops to the Middle East.

Japan has backed the nuclear accord, initially reached between Iran and six other countries — the United States, France, the U.K., Germany, Russia and China — in 2015.

The recent standoff has put Tokyo in an awkward position between security ally the United States, and Iran, which Japan has long relied on for oil imports. The United States has ended sanctions waivers for buyers of Iranian oil, including Japan.

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