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Japan's Abe to Visit Iran in Bid to Ease Tensions With U.S...

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Iran to ease rising tensions after President Donald Trump endorsed a mission where the premier would serve as an intermediary between leaders in Tehran and Washington.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga did not give dates for the trip or further details of the visit at a briefing on Thursday, but Japanese media, including Kyodo News, said he would travel from June 12 to 14 and meet with Iran’s leaders. The trip will be the first by a sitting Japanese prime minister to Iran in 41 years.
Japan is one of the strongest U.S. allies in Asia, and has decades of good ties with Iran. Abe welcomed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on a visit last month, and has expressed support for the 2015 multinational accord restricting Iran’s nuclear program that Trump’s administration has rejected.
A successful visit would open communication between the U.S. and Iran, said Kazuo Takahashi, a professor of international politics at the Open University of Japan. Abe’s trip also serves the purposes of Japan, which relies on oil from the Middle East and seeks U.S. support for its pressing concerns in Asia, he added.
“It’s in Japan’s national interest to keep the U.S. out of another war in the Middle East,” he said. “The main issue for Japan is not Iran, not Syria –- it’s China. We don’t want the Americans to waste their energy in Iran, or Iraq, or Syria or Afghanistan.”

Trump’s Support

On a visit to Tokyo last month, Trump endorsed Abe’s plans to visit Iran to help reduce tensions. “I know for a fact that the prime minister’s very close with the leadership of Iran and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said on May 27. “That would be fine. Nobody wants to see terrible things happen. Especially me.”
The U.S. has signaled in recent days that it’s open for dialogue, while retaining the option of force. Trump said during a visit to Britain this week, there’s “always a chance” of the U.S. taking military action in Iran, though he’d prefer to engage verbally with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The comments come amid heightened tension between the two countries, after Trump blamed the Islamic Republic for recent violence in the Middle East and ordered 1,500 U.S. troops to the region last month. The small deployment indicated that Trump’s administration wants to avoid fueling fears of another war, though the president made it clear it wasn’t off the table entirely.
Friction spiked in the Gulf after the U.S. announced in April that it would tighten sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, prompting an Iranian threat to scale back commitments under the 2015 multi-power nuclear deal Washington quit a year ago.