TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a two-day visit to Iran from June 12, government officials said Thursday, the first trip to the country by an incumbent Japanese premier in over four decades.
As tensions have grown in the Middle East, Abe hopes to mediate between Iran and the United States and encourage dialogue by leveraging Japan’s good relations with both countries.
Abe is expected to stress the importance of an international nuclear deal reached in 2015, even as the United States has withdrawn and Tehran said last month it would suspend some of its commitments under the accord.
The government explained the travel plan to members of a lower house steering committee on Thursday.
Arrangements are being made for Abe to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, before his return to Japan on June 14.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono will also travel to Iran for talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif prior to Abe’s arrival, according to the officials.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe plans to visit Iran “soon” but declined to give further details as arrangements are still being made.
“It’s extremely important to encourage Iran at a summit level to ease tensions, abide by the nuclear deal, and play a constructive role in ensuring regional stability,” Suga said at a press conference.
The visit “will further our traditionally friendly relations as this year marks the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties,” the top government spokesman added.
Abe has laid the groundwork in recent weeks for his visit to Iran, the first by a Japanese leader since the Islamic Revolution. Former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda went to Iran in 1978.
Abe has already secured backing last week from U.S. President Donald Trump for his efforts to reach out to Iran. In mid-May, Abe met with Zarif in Tokyo and promised to work with Tehran to defuse Middle East tensions.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Tokyo with Trump in late May, Abe suggested he wants to make efforts to facilitate discussions between Washington and Tehran “so that things will not go wrong and lead to a military clash” in the Middle East.
Tensions have spiked in the region following Iran’s move to suspend some commitments under the nuclear accord. It came in response to Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the deal and reinstate economic sanctions as Washington has stiffened its stance on Tehran.
In May, Iran said it would keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear accord, and set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms.
Washington has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf and decided to send additional U.S. troops to the Middle East.
The recent standoff has put Tokyo in an awkward position between security ally the United States, and Iran, which Japan has long relied on for oil imports.
Iran has been a major oil exporter. However, the United States has ended sanctions waivers for buyers of Iranian oil, including Japan.