Abe cancels visit to Middle East amid tensions


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to cancel a trip to the Middle East scheduled for Jan 12-15 after Iran attacked bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq overnight.

Abe had planned to visit Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani last week has raised fears of an all-out conflict, with President Donald Trump threatening “major retaliation” if Tehran makes good on a pledge to avenge the killing.

Abe has in recent months tried to carve out a role as mediator between Japan’s U.S. ally and Iran, with which Tokyo has longstanding ties.

Tokyo and Tehran have maintained diplomatic relations for decades, even through the crisis with the West sparked by Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and subsequent frictions over its nuclear program.

In June, as tensions rose over Trump’s decision to withdraw from a nuclear deal with Tehran, Abe visited Iran for talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

But his visit coincided with a suspected attack on two oil tankers in the Sea of Oman, off the Iranian coast, which again sent tensions in the Gulf soaring.

And Khamenei categorically ruled out talks with Trump despite Abe’s efforts to smooth a path.

Abe later met Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, and in December welcomed the Iranian leader to Japan — the first visit by an Iranian head of state in two decades.

Japan has walked a fine line in balancing its key alliance with Washington and its longstanding relations and interests with Iran.

It was formerly a major buyer of Iranian crude but stopped purchases to comply with U.S. sanctions imposed after Washington unilaterally quit the nuclear deal in May 2018.


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