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International relations

Abe urges Iran to be constructive in easing Middle East tensions

Japanese prime minister voices 'strong concern' over deterioration in region

NEW YORK (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Japan expects Iran to play a constructive role in stabilizing the Middle East in the wake of attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities.

Abe also urged Iran to fulfill its responsibility as a nation along the Persian Gulf to ensure the safety of passing ships, a critical issue for Japan as it depends on the Middle East for oil.

The summit was held on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly where Rouhani is expected to present a peace plan for the Persian Gulf on Wednesday.

Abe expressed his "strong concern" over the worsening Middle East situation following the Sept. 14 attacks, acknowledging there are doubts that Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen were to blame, according to the Japanese official.

The Iranian president was quoted as telling Abe that he hopes to cooperate with Japan as regional security is important.

The unveiling of the Iranian plan comes amid elevated risk of military conflict with the United States, which has sent additional troops to Saudi Arabia to help the ally beef up its defenses.

Britain, France and Germany have joined the United States in blaming Iran for the strikes. Washington is also asking its allies to join its initiative to protect ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz after tanker attacks.

Tuesday's summit in New York followed Abe's visit to Iran in June meant to stress the importance of dialogue. Rouhani was quoted as saying he trusts and has "high expectations" of Japan.

"We welcome the fact that (Iran) has shown willingness to achieve peace through dialogue," Abe said at the meeting, the beginning of which was open to media.

On the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Abe asked Iran to keep its commitments as Tehran has breached its uranium enrichment limit set by the accord.

Iran has been calling for the removal of sanctions that were reimposed after the United States pulled out of the deal. France, Germany and Britain have been trying to salvage the deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Rouhani was quoted as telling Abe that Iran is opposed to all weapons of mass destruction, saying that Iran fell victim to chemical weapons and Japan to nuclear weapons in the past.

Abe is scheduled to sit down with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, with Iran likely to be on their agenda.

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