NEW YORK – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on Monday that Tehran will seek to avoid war amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, while expressing appreciation for Tokyo’s diplomatic outreach.
Meeting Zarif for the first time since becoming foreign minister earlier this month, Motegi voiced serious concern about the situation in the region following recent attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
“We are very much concerned about the grave situation,” Motegi told Zarif at the outset of the meeting on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Japan will continue to work toward stabilizing the region, he added.
Zarif, meanwhile, took issue with what he called the prevailing view that war could be imminent, in reference to the recent U.S. move to send more troops to Saudi Arabia.
The decision to dispatch additional troops came as the United States has placed the blame on Iran and imposed additional sanctions over the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. Yemen’s Houthi rebels immediately claimed responsibility for the strikes, while Iran has denied involvement.
Japan is seeking to promote dialogue between the United States and Iran as stability in the Middle East is vital for the resource-scarce country. The nation relies heavily on crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Motegi-Zarif meeting came a day before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Prior to his visit to New York, Rouhani said he would unveil a peace plan for the Persian Gulf on the occasion of the annual U.N. gathering, while the United States is calling for a coalition to be formed to ensure safety in the Strait of Hormuz.
Zarif explained details of the Iranian plan to Motegi during the meeting, according to a Japanese government official.
Despite being a longtime U.S. security ally, Japan has taken a cautious stance about joining the U.S.-led initiative due to its traditionally friendly ties with Iran.
Motegi asked Zarif “strongly” during their meeting to refrain from taking action that would undermine the 2015 nuclear accord, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
Iran has been hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal that had previously been agreed between Tehran and major powers.
In response, Iran has breached its uranium enrichment limit in a step away from the accord, prompting Japan to try to persuade Tehran to follow its commitments. Tokyo is not part of the agreement.