• Kyodo, Reuters, AFP-Jiji

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Sunday urged Iran's new president, Ebrahim Raisi, to return to a multilateral deal over Tehran's nuclear program, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Motegi filed the request in a meeting with Raisi, an anti-U.S. hard-liner who took office earlier this month, in the Iranian capital.

Since Japan has established friendly relations with Iran while also being allied to the United States, Motegi's visit was expected to pave the way for promoting dialogue between Iran and the West.

However, Raisi called on Tokyo to release the Islamic republic's funds that have been frozen in Japan because of U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program.

Iran has been unable to obtain tens of billions of dollars of its assets mainly from exports of oil and gas in foreign banks, including $3 billion of its funds in Japan, due to U.S. sanctions on its banking and energy sectors. The sanctions were reimposed in 2018 after Washington abandoned Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers.

"The improvement of ties with Japan is of great importance for Iran…. Any delay in unblocking Iranian assets in Japanese banks is not justified," Raisi said in his meeting with Motegi, who arrived in Tehran on Sunday for a two-day visit.

Iran and six powers have been in talks since April to reinstate the nuclear pact, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain fissile material for a weapon, in return for relief from sanctions. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.

Washington said in mid-July that it was allowing Iran to use the frozen funds to settle debts in South Korea and Japan, but insisted that it did not allow any to be transferred to Tehran itself.

Talks between Iran and world powers aimed at reviving the 2015 accord have stalled since late June. The United States has been involved indirectly in the talks.

Topics also high on the agenda were to prevent further deterioration of the crisis in Afghanistan, where the militant Islamist Taliban have taken control, from becoming a destabilizing factor for the international community, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

It was the first time Raisi had held talks with a major democratic country after taking over of the reins of power in the country.

Motegi arrived in Tehran early Sunday after visiting Turkey and Iraq during a regional tour, and he will also go to Qatar.

At a press briefing after meeting Raisi, Motegi told Japanese reporters that during his visits he had discussed the situation in Afghanistan following the capture of Kabul by the Taliban.

He said he agreed with Iran, Turkey and Iraq on the need to cooperate to avoid Afghanistan becoming a "further destabilizing factor."

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