Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged Iran to keep abiding by international nuclear rules and to play a “constructive role” for regional security, on his two-day visit to the country, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying tensions in the Middle East can only be reduced if the United States stopped its economic pressure through sanctions.
The two leaders made the comments in a joint news conference late on Wednesday after closed-door talks in Tehran during a rare Japanese diplomatic mission aimed at defusing tensions between Iran and the US, a Tokyo ally.
“Iran is cooperating with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and I hope it will continue to comply with IAEA regulations,” Abe told a joint news conference.
Tehran has been locked in a standoff with Washington since President Donald Trump‘s controversial decision to withdraw the US from a multinational 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
Washington has since reimposed punishing unilateral sanctions, which have forced Japan to stop its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil.
The US has also and launched a military buildup in the Gulf, deploying in recent weeks an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf.
“Amid rising tension, it is essential for Iran to play a constructive role in strengthening peace and stability in the Middle East, so that this region won’t be destabilised further,” said Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“There is a possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs.”
Iran has responded to Washington’s moves by following on a threat to increase its enrichment of uranium, while also saying it was up to European countries who still support the landmark nuclear deal to save it by finding ways to ensure Tehran receives the economic benefits it was promised.
Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a “very positive change” in the Middle East and the world if the US ended its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions.
“Tensions stem from America’s economic war against Iran. If it stops, we will witness a very positive change in the Middle East and the world,” Rouhani said.
“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, noting that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil.
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.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said Japan, a US ally that also has good diplomatic relations with Iran, was in a good position to negotiate between the two sides.
“The primary goal of the visit was to mediate between Iran and US for a step forward and to de-escalate tensions in the region,” she said.
On a visit to Japan last month, Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the “very good relationship” between Tokyo and Tehran.
Japan’s prime minister is expected to meet Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Thursday morning.