TEHRAN: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Tehran to play a “constructive role” for Middle East peace Wednesday during a rare diplomatic mission to the Islamic republic aimed at defusing US-Iran tensions.
Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions - which have forced Tokyo to halt its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil - and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.
“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
“Today, tension is rising in the Middle East. Some experts point out that the conflict might be triggered accidentally, said Abe.
An armed clash “must be avoided by all means,” the premier stressed.
The “peace and stability of the Middle East is indispensable for the prosperity not only of this region but of the entire world.
“Japan wishes to play an utmost role in its capacity to ease the tension. This is the one single thought that brought me to Iran," he added.
Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a “very positive change” in the Middle East and the world if the United States stops its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions.
“We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response,” the Iranian president added.
Abe began his visit to Iran on Wednesday, the first by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years, with the stated aim of defusing tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Japan stopped importing Iranian crude oil in May to comply with US sanctions against Iran.
The Asian powerhouse has an interest in keeping the Middle East stable in order to ensure the flow of cheap hydrocarbons to fuel its economy.
Rouhani said he saw “Japan's interest in continuing to buy oil from Iran and fixing financial issues” as a “guarantee” for the ongoing development of bilateral ties.
The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said “both of us are against.”
The Japanese premier is expected to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Thursday morning.
Abe discussed “the situation in Iran” in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said.
The Japanese prime minister won Trump's blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month.