Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Tokyo on Friday for a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, becoming the first Iranian leader to visit Japan in nearly two decades amid a persisting standoff with the United States.
Rouhani's visit until Saturday is seen as part of Tehran's efforts to maintain friendly ties with Japan, a longtime security ally of the United States, and break the impasse over a 2015 nuclear accord as U.S. President Donald Trump steps up his maximum pressure campaign, Kyodo reports.
Abe, for his part, is expected to use the meeting with Rouhani to try to diffuse tensions in the Middle East, a key region for resource-poor Japan.
The last Iranian president to visit Japan was Mohammad Khatami in October 2000.
Iran is now struggling under oil and other U.S. sanctions that have crippled the economy and higher gasoline prices in the nation sparked widespread protests, adding to the woes. Experts say Tehran is hoping that Japan will resume crude oil imports and strengthen economic ties.
During the meeting with Rouhani, Abe is expected to express concern about Iranian moves since May to undermine the 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and other world powers, Japanese officials said.
Tensions have spiked in the Middle East after a spate of attacks took place on oil facilities and tankers, including a vessel operated by a Japanese firm near the Strait of Hormuz in June. The United States has accused Iran of involvement.
Abe is expected to call on Iran to fulfill its responsibility as a nation near the world's critical waterway for oil transport to secure the passage of ships.
High on Abe's agenda is to try to explain how Japan wants to make its own contributions to the Middle East by sending Self-Defense Forces personnel there, according to the officials.
Noting that Japan's crude oil imports from the Middle East account for 90 percent of its total, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "There is no doubt that the safe passage of ships is important for Japan."
We will spare no effort trying to explain our plan (to send the SDF) during the Japan-Iran summit," the top government spokesman said at a press conference before Rouhani's arrival.
Japan has carefully weighed the SDF dispatch, drawing a line against joining a U.S.-led maritime security initiative to protect shipping near the Strait of Hormuz. Abe's Cabinet is expected to give the go-ahead after briefing Rouhani on the plan in detail.
The government has said an SDF destroyer and patrol plane will stay away from the strait and be dispatched instead to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for gathering intelligence.
Japan and Iran have traditionally friendly ties. Friday's summit will be the 10th for Abe and Rouhani, who previously met in September on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Abe became the first Japanese leader since 1978 to visit Iran in June, to broker dialogue between Iran and the United States.
While the Trump administration has hardened its stance on Iran since pulling out of the nuclear accord in 2018, remaining members such as France and Britain have been trying to salvage it. Joint efforts are also under way to facilitate trade between Iran and Europe by bypassing U.S. sanctions.
Japan is not a member but has consistently supported the landmark accord reached between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. It is designed to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against it.
Source: Kazinform News Agency
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