RIYADH: Japan’s premier arrived on Saturday (Jan 11) in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Gulf tour during which he hopes to ease tensions after the US killed a top Iranian general.
The official Saudi news agency SPA said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his delegation were received by senior officials including Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri.
During his five-day tour, Abe will also visit the United Arab Emirates and Oman, where a new ruler was sworn in on Saturday following the death of modern day Oman’s founding father Sultan Qaboos.
Abe’s Gulf trip had initially been thrown into doubt after Tehran responded to the US’ January 3 killing of Qasem Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles at bases hosting American troops in Iraq.
The escalation prompted fears of an all-out war.
Those fears have subsided however after US President Donald Trump said Iran appeared to be standing down after targeting the US bases in Iraq.
“To avoid further escalation of the tense situation in the Middle East, (Abe) will exchange opinions with the three countries” he is visiting, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said ahead of the visit.
“In each of the countries, we plan to ask for cooperation in ensuring a stable energy supply and the safety of vessels,” he added.
Japan last month announced it would deploy a military vessel and two patrol planes to the region to protect its shipping interests.
Abe has in recent months tried to carve out a role as mediator between Japan’s ally Washington and Tehran, with which Tokyo has longstanding ties.
In December Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Abe in Tokyo after a visit by the Japanese prime minister to Tehran in June.
That visit came amid tensions in the Gulf following a spate of attacks on oil tankers which Washington blamed on Iran, despite denials from Tehran.
“I’m deeply concerned about the tensions in the Middle East,” Abe said earlier this week according to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK as he announced details of his Gulf trip.
“I hope to contribute to peace and stability in the region through diplomatic efforts to ease tensions,” he added.
Japan was formerly a major buyer of Iranian crude but stopped purchases to comply with US sanctions imposed after Washington in May 2018 unilaterally quit the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.