Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected in Tehran on Wednesday for a rare diplomatic mission, hoping to ease tensions between the Islamic republic and Tokyo’s key ally Washington.
The first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in 41 years, Abe is expected to arrive in Tehran at around 1120 GMT and go straight into talks with President Hassan Rouhani.
Tehran is locked in a bitter standoff with Washington after President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions that have forced Japan to halt its once substantial purchases of Iranian oil and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.
“Amid concerns over growing tension in the Middle East and with the attention of the international community on the issue, Japan wishes to do its best towards peace and stability in the region,” Abe told reporters in Tokyo before leaving for Tehran.
“Based on traditional friendly ties between Japan and Iran, I would like to have candid exchanges of opinions with President Rouhani and supreme leader Khamenei towards easing tensions,” he said.
– Lower the temperature –
Japanese government officials say Abe will not present Tehran with a list of demands, or deliver a message from Washington, and instead want to play the role of neutral intermediary.
On Tuesday, Abe discussed “the situation in Iran” in a telephone call with Trump, a Japanese government spokesman said.
A government official said Abe will not be in Tehran to “mediate between Iran and the US” and that “easing tensions” was the prime purpose.
“He might touch upon the subject (of mediation) but that does not necessarily mean he is delivering a message” from Washington, he added.
After holding talks with Rouhani on Wednesday, Abe is to meet Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday morning.