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International relations

Abe weighs Iran visit next month to quell US standoff

Decision will come after Japanese leader's summit with Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif his concerns about rising Middle East tensions during their meeting May 16.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering a visit to Iran next month, the first by a sitting Japanese leader in over four decades, as he hopes to play a role in calming tensions between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern nation.

Abe would hold a summit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as early as mid-June. The last Japanese prime minister to visit the country was Takeo Fukuda, who arrived in 1978 just before the revolution toppled the Shah. Washington cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980.

Abe will decide whether to make the trip after holding a summit Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, who arrives in Japan on Saturday as a state guest.

After pulling out of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. reimposed economic sanctions. In response, Tehran announced it would not carry out parts of the deal. The Trump administration recently deployed an aircraft carrier group and a bomber task force to the region, citing threats to American interests.

The Japanese government has aired concerns over the heightened potential of an armed conflict. Japan depends on the Middle East for much of its energy supplies, and elevated tensions would deal a heavy blow to the domestic economy.

When Abe met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tokyo on May 16, the prime minister expressed hopes that Iran would continue to carry out provisions in the nuclear deal.

"I'm concerned that tensions in the Mideast are intensifying," Abe said.

Abe met Friday with John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser and Iran hawk, at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. The two exchanged opinions concerning the Mideast country.

Japan has long maintained amicable ties with Iran, and this year marks the 90th anniversary of the two countries opening diplomatic relations. In his quest to quell hostilities in the Middle East, Abe looks to balance the friendship with Iran and his country's key security alliance with the U.S.

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