UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Tokyo is arranging for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Iran in the near future, although work is still underway on details of the visit, a government spokesman said on Thursday.
Japanese media reported that the visit would be next week, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihidi Suga declined to say whether Abe would meet Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rowhani.
“We will make efforts to be useful,” Suja told reporters at a regular news conference.
It will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Iran during his tenure in office for more than four decades.
The visit comes amid growing tension between Iran and the United States, a year after Washington pulled out of an agreement between Tehran and world powers aimed at curbing its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
On a visit to Japan at the end of last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s contribution to the Iran issue after the Japan Broadcasting Corporation reported that the prime minister was studying Tehran.
Japan is keen to stabilize the Middle East as most of its oil imports come from the region, although it has refrained from buying oil from Tehran recently because of US sanctions.
Diplomatic experts said most of what Abe could do was persuade Iran and the United States to resume talks and reduce tensions.
They said the two sides may seek to break out of the confrontation in a face-saving and dignified manner in a position to help achieve that.
Japan and Iran have long-standing cordial ties and this year marks the 90th anniversary of the start of diplomatic ties. Abby also has close ties to Trump.
“The best that Abe can say is to propose to the Supreme Leader of Iran to sit down with the US president without any preconditions,” said a former Japanese diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Q: Does Japan risk?
Trump said on Wednesday during a visit to Britain that he was ready to talk to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but there was always a chance for US military action against the Islamic Republic.
The quest for mediation between Washington and Tehran could be a high risk but its return is of high value to Abe, whose ruling coalition is locked in the House of Advisors elections in the coming months amid speculation he may also call early elections in the House of Representatives.
But the former diplomat said Abe had probably received positive signals from both sides.
“Maybe Abe is risking, but I do not think … I do not think Iran will mistreat Mr. Abe. I do not think Iran will leave the prime minister back empty-handed.”
A diplomatic source supported the view that Abe was unlikely to make this important visit without assurances from Washington.
“Abe seems to have some guarantees that whatever he does, it will not have the opposite effect,” the source said.
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