Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to arrive in Iran on Wednesday to begin a trip to the Middle Eastern country where he is expected to try to mediate escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.
“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 or accidental clashes won’t happen,” Abe said.
However dozens of hard-line students protested outside Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport over Abe’s efforts to ease tensions between the US and Iran.
He is the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in four decades since Takeo Fukuda in 1978 and is due to meet Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Officially, Japan and Iran are marking the 90th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship this year. Much more significant is that the trip comes shortly after US President Donald Trump made a state visit to Japan, a key US ally.
US relations with Iran worsened since Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran. The tensions escalated further when the US sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region, raising fears of a military confrontation.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has said that Iran did not want conflict with the US but that it would give “a crushing response” if it were attacked.