Iran's Rouhani, Japan PM meet amid tension with US

Last week, Abe said he would strive "as much as possible to ease tensions" in the Middle East, noting Japan's alliance with Washington and "favourable relations" with Tehran.
Iran's Rouhani, Japan PM meet amid tension with US
Image Courtesy: Twitter - @JPN_PMO

Tokyo

President Hassan Rouhani became the first Iranian head of state to visit Japan for two decades on Friday, as Tokyo seeks to mediate between Tehran and Washington amid spiralling nuclear tensions.
The two men inspected a guard of honour at Abe's central Tokyo office before summit talks and a dinner scheduled to last into Friday evening. They are not scheduled to brief reporters after the talks.
The trip comes after deadly protests last month over petroleum price hikes in Iran, as Washington-imposed sanctions over its nuclear programme hit the Iranian economy.
The United States re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018 after withdrawing from an international deal aimed at tackling the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei has played down the mediation aspect of the trip, saying the visit to Tokyo had "nothing to do with issues such as negotiations with America".
However, he acknowledged that "our Japanese friends usually convey messages or initiatives, which we welcome... and seriously examine".
As a key US ally that also maintains close diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to build bridges between the two rival powers.
Last week, Abe said he would strive "as much as possible to ease tensions" in the Middle East, noting Japan's alliance with Washington and "favourable relations" with Tehran.
Abe travelled to Tehran in June to try to ease tension between the United States and Iran in the Gulf.
Japan was formerly a major buyer of Iranian crude but stopped purchases to comply with the US sanctions.
The prime minister is expected to explain to Rouhani Tokyo's plans to send two Self Defence Forces ships to the Gulf of Oman to protect shipping there.
"At the Japan-Iran summit today we will explain Japan's policy. This kind of policy is aimed at securing Japanese vessels' safety," said government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, adding that 90 per cent of Japan's crude oil imports come from the region.
Rouhani comes to Japan from Kuala Lumpur where he called on Muslim countries at a summit to band together to fight US "economic terrorism".
Osamu Miyata, head of Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan (CCISJ), told AFP that Abe would find it difficult to steer a path between US President Donald Trump and Rouhani.
The US sanctions "are having a serious impact on every aspect of Iran -- people's daily life, the country's finances, and inflation in imported goods", Hitoshi Suzuki, a Middle East scholar at the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO), told AFP.
"It would be difficult to have tangible achievements from the Rouhani-Abe meeting this time, but in the long-term, Japan can warn the US that the current sanctions are having a serious negative impact," added Suzuki.
"This could prompt Iranian domestic politics to move in the opposite direction hoped for by the US -- for example, hawks leading Iran to resume nuclear development, or the emergence of an anti-democratic Iran," he said.

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