• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to revise his position Wednesday over recent attacks on major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, during talks with U.S. President Donald Trump where the leaders agreed to cooperate to defuse tensions in the Middle East.

“It is difficult to think” that the pro-Iran Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, who immediately claimed responsibility for the incident, had the ability to carry out the attacks, Abe was quoted as telling Trump as they met on the sidelines of U.N. meetings in New York.

But he also said that Japan will continue to cooperate with other related parties to gather information and analyze the attacks, which cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production by about 5.7 million barrels a day — about 5 percent of global supply.

During the discussions the two leaders strongly condemned the Sept. 14 attacks, a Japanese government official said.

Washington has blamed the strikes on Iran. While Abe did not directly refer to the country, his comments suggested a slight shift from his neutral stance amid growing criticism of Tehran.

Japan, which relies heavily on the Middle East for crude oil imports, has endeavored to balance its traditionally amicable ties with Iran and its relationship with the United States — its closest ally.

Abe has avoided directly criticizing Iran for the attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure, but the U.K., France and Germany joined the United States in accusing Iran on Monday.

According to the official, Abe and Trump did not discuss a U.S.-led international maritime security coalition intended to safeguard commercial shipping in key waterways off Iran.

The U.S.-led bid to form a maritime security coalition follows a series of attacks on oil tankers, including one operated by a Japanese company, in May and June.

Iran has come up with its own maritime security initiative to ensure safe passage in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway for oil transport.

On Tuesday, Abe met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and told him that Japan expects Iran to play a constructive role in stabilizing the Middle East.

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