Japan's Abe to Visit Tehran Next Week Amid U.S.-Iran Tensions

The Japanese premier is keen to serve as an intermediary and is expected to hold talks with both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani

File photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, May 16, 2019.
Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Iran for three days next week amid increasing tensions between Washington and Tehran, Tokyo said Thursday.

Abe, who will become the first Japanese premier to visit the Islamic Republic in around 40 years, is expected to hold talks with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani.

Abe is keen to serve as an intermediary, as Japan has amicable relations with Iran, which the country has long relied on for oil imports. This year marks the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

>> Read more: Iran's supreme leader changes his tune on Rohani and Zarif

Last week, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, described Abe's planned visit "a turning point."

During his visit to Japan last week, U.S. President Donald Trump did not oppose Abe's plan to talk to Iran's leaders.

Japan "would like to make efforts so that things will not go wrong and escalate to an armed confrontation," Abe told a joint news conference with Trump on May 27.

The U.S. withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran last year and imposed a raft of strict sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's economy.

In mid-May, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Japan, holding talks with Abe and Japanese counterpart Taro Kono separately. Zarif urged Tokyo to take action to protect the deal.

The other signatories to the deal - Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China plus the European Union - have expressed the desire to keep it alive.