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Japan's Abe On Tehran Mission To Help Ease U.S.-Iran Tensions

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shake hands after their joint press conference at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says a military conflict should be avoided at all costs amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran.

Abe spoke in Tehran on June 11 following talks with Iranian President Hassan Rohani who praised his meeting the Japanese PM as successful and said that the two had discussed economic ties and the 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers.

"Iran will remain committed to the deal, which is important for security of the region and the world. Tehran and Tokyo both oppose nuclear weapons, "Rohani said.

The Japanese PM arrived in in the Iranian capital earlier in the day on a visit he hopes will help ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.

"There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs," Abe said told a joint news conference with Rohani.

"Amid rising tension, it is essential for Iran to play a constructive role in strengthening peace and stability in the Middle East, so that this region won't be destabilized further or accidental clashes won't happen," Abe said.

For his part, Rohani said that Iran will not start a war with America. But he added that in case of a war, Tehran will respond "decisively."

The Iranian president also suggested that there could be "very positive change" if the United States ended its campaign of economic pressure against the Islamic republic.

"If there are some tensions, [their] roots stem from America's economic war against Iran. Whenever it stops we will witness a very positive change in the region and the world," Rohani said.

He also said that Japan wanted to continue buying Iran's oil which has been sanctioned by the United States.

Abe is also expected to meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his trip to Iran -- the first by a sitting Japanese prime minister in more than four decades.

Tehran has been locked in a bitter standoff with Washington since the United States one year ago pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

Since then, Washington has reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, stepped up its rhetoric, and beefed up its military presence in the Middle East, raising fears of a possible armed conflict.

Before departing from Tokyo, Abe cited "concerns over rising tension in the Middle East region."

"Japan wants to do as much as possible toward peace and stability in the region," he added.

Tokyo is one of the closest U.S. allies in Asia and also has good ties with Tehran.

But observers have expressed doubt over what can actually be achieved during Abe's visit, and said the visit might help boost his image as a global statesman ahead of elections for the upper house of Japan's parliament in July.

Abe's arrival was preceded by that of Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who held closed-door talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iranian officials were quoted as saying that Tehran plans to ask Japan to mediate between Iran and the United States to ease oil sanctions imposed by Washington.

"Japan can help easing the ongoing tension between Iran and a goodwill gesture, America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions or extend the waivers or suspend them," a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

The news agency quoted another official as saying that Abe "can be a great mediator to facilitate that."

However, a Japanese government official said that Abe will not present Tehran with a list of demands, or deliver a message from Washington, and instead will want to play the role of neutral intermediary, according to AFP.

U.S. officials have signaled that Washington is open for dialogue with the Iranian leadership while insisting that force remains an option. Khamenei has rejected any talks with Washington.

Addressing a cabinet meeting ahead of Abe's visit, Rohani said that U.S. pressure on nation had "reached its maximum."

"From today onward, the threats and pressures will lose their capacity and will be exhausted," he added.

In announcing the U.S. pullout from the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018, President Donald Trump argued that the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not address the country's missile program or its support for militants in the region.

Iran has denied it supports insurgent activity and said its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.

With reporting by AP, the BBC, Reuters, AFP, IRNA and ISNA