• Kyodo, Staff Report


Defense Minister Taro Kono spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart Amir Hatami to explain Tokyo’s plan to dispatch a destroyer and two patrol airplanes to the Middle East, the Japanese Defense Ministry said Thursday.

Hatami didn’t show any negative response to the planned dispatch of the Maritime Self-Defense Force unit, according to Kono, who spoke to reporters in Tokyo after the phone conversation.

Kono also called for Iran’s cooperation to ensure the safety of Japan-related ships navigating through the Strait of Hormuz during the conversation, Kono said.

“I believe we can secure cooperation and assistance from Iran,” Kono said.

According to the ministry, it was Kono’s second teleconference with Hatami following the one in October.

The dispatch plan has stirred debate among lawmakers as tension between the U.S. and Iran sharply rose after the U.S. assassination of top Iranian commander Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately expressed support for a decision by Washington to make a measured response to Iranian missile strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Japan has been urging all parties involved to exercise self-restraint so it’s our stance that we support the restrained response (by the United States),” Abe told reporters at his office.

“We will continue to make all possible diplomatic efforts to ease and stabilize the situation” in the Middle East, Abe said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday his country will impose tougher economic sanctions on Tehran but does not intend to respond militarily.

His statement came amid growing concern about an open conflict between the United States and Iran at a time when the longtime foes are mired in a standoff over a 2015 nuclear deal.

Friction between the U.S. and Iran presents a complex challenge for Japan, which is seeking to balance its friendly ties with Iran and its security alliance with the United States.

As Japan relies on the Middle East for about 90 percent of its crude oil imports, stability in the region is of utmost concern. Tokyo plans to send Self-Defense Forces personnel to areas in the region excluding the Strait of Hormuz to gather intelligence for the safe navigation of Japan-related commercial shipping.

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