Japan’s Abe to meet Iran’s supreme leader amid tensions with U.S.

TEHRAN, June 13 (NNN-KYODO) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold talks with Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday as part of his two-day mission to help ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.

File photo shows Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo courtesy of the Office of Iranian Supreme Leader

While the two countries have long enjoyed amicable ties, Abe is the first Japanese premier to meet with an Iranian supreme leader, who has ultimate authority over the country’s policy direction.

Khamenei has taken a hard-line approach toward the United States, in contrast to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with whom Abe held talks on Wednesday. Rouhani is considered more moderate and reached a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers in 2015.

Abe is in Tehran in an attempt to serve as a mediator between Iran and the United States, Japan’s longtime security ally, with tensions having flared in recent weeks and worries growing about accidental military clashes in the Middle East, a vital area for energy-poor Japan.

Abe’s trip, which is also the first by a Japanese leader to Iran since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, is seen as an attempt to boost Tokyo’s diplomatic profile abroad.

During his talks with Abe, Rouhani indicated Iran does not want a further escalation of the situation in the Middle East or war with the United States. But the president blamed the United States, and in particular what he described as the “economic war” Washington has launched against Tehran, for the heightened regional tensions.

Rouhani called for the lifting of oil sanctions by the United States and asked Abe to inform President Donald Trump of its demand, an Iranian government source said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Photo courtesy of Kyodo

Iran said in May it was suspending some of its commitments under the nuclear deal. Tehran set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms, saying it would keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the agreement initially reached with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Washington has stepped up its military presence in the Middle East. It has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Persian Gulf and decided to send additional U.S. troops.

The last Japanese prime minister to visit Iran was Takeo Fukuda in 1978. Tokyo’s ties with Tehran date back to 1929, with this year marking the 90th anniversary of the opening of their diplomatic relationship.