Iran wants Japan’s Abe to mediate over US oil sanctions: Officials

Shinzo Abe and Hassan Rouhani
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Iran wants Japan to help diffuse ongoing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Tehran says it will ask s Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to facilitate negotiations in a bid to ease oil sanctions imposed by the United States against the oil-rich country.

Abe arrived in the country on Wednesday for a two-day visit.

He is the first Japanese leader to visit Iran in 41 years.

“Japan can help in easing the on-going tension between Iran and America…As a goodwill gesture, America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions or extend the waivers or suspend them,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

Abe is scheduled to hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani late on Wednesday and meet the Islamic Republic’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday.

The Japanese leader is also a US ally.

Abe visited Washington in May and US President Donald Trump welcomed his help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the “very good relationship” between Tokyo and Tehran.

“Mr. Abe can be a great mediator to facilitate that (easing of oil sanctions)…Japan has always respected Iran, and Mr.Abe can play a very constructive role to calm the on-going tension that can harm the (Middle East) region,” said another Iranian official, who asked not to be named.

Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharply increased in recent weeks, a year after the US abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Trump cranks up pressure on Iran

Washington, calling the nuclear deal flawed and seeking to push Iran into new negotiations, intensified sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and firms to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system. It has also dispatched extra armed forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.

Iran in turn threatened that in 60 days it would resume enrichment of uranium beyond the low fissile purity, suitable for civilian nuclear power generation, allowed under the deal, unless other powers signed up to it found a way to protect Iran’s oil and banking industries from US sanctions.

European parties of the deal have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, although with no success so far. All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of US punishment.

Despite pushing for imports to continue, Japan has also stopped importing oil from Iran for now to avoid US sanctions.

“Japan wants to do as much as possible towards peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe said in Tokyo ahead of his departure, according to Iranian TV.

However, just hours before his Tehran visit, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels carried out a missile attack on a civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia, which wounded 26 people. The Western-backed Sunni Muslim alliance that has been battling the Houthis in Yemen said the attack was proof of Tehran’s support for what it called cross-border terrorism.