Japan PM to visit Iran in effort to mediate tension with US

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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Iran in an effort to reduce tensions between Tehran and Washington, Japan's government spokesman said Thursday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe's trip will be the first by a Japanese leader to Iran in 41 years. He declined to specify the dates of the trip or other details, but said it would be "soon." Officials are finalizing the details so the visit will be meaningful, Suga said.

Kyodo News and other local media said Abe will visit Tehran on June 12-14 and meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have worsened since Washington withdrew last year from a nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

"With tensions intensifying in the Middle East, I believe it is extremely important to try to alleviate tension, encourage Iran to abide by the nuclear agreement and play a constructive role for regional stability," Suga said. "We will actively work toward a peaceful resolution."

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is expected to travel to Tehran to meet with his counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on June 12 to pave the way for Abe's visit.

Abe proposed the trip to President Donald Trump during a visit by the U.S. leader to Japan in late May and received his support.

Resource-poor Japan relies heavily on oil imports from the Middle East and has maintained friendly relations with Iran, though oil from that country now accounts for only about 5% of Japan's total oil imports, down from 10% in the 2000s.

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