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Japan vows to work with Iran to ease nuclear-deal tension

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speak at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, on May 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on May 16, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan expressed on Thursday its concern about a tense standoff between Iran and the United States over an international nuclear deal, while offering to work with Tehran to defuse tension in the Middle East.

"We are concerned that the situation in the Middle East is getting extremely tense," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the outset of their meeting in Tokyo.

Zarif traveled to Japan, a key U.S. ally that has maintained amicable ties with the Middle East country, at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is ramping up pressure on Iran through tighter sanctions and an apparent show of force by leaving the 2015 nuclear accord.

During a separate meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, the Iranian foreign minister called the "escalation" of the situation by the United States "unacceptable" and said Tehran has exercised "maximum restraint" despite the development.

Iran last week reacted to the U.S. moves by announcing the suspension of some commitments under the deal, which was designed to curb Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Zarif told Kono that Iran remains committed to the deal and sought international support to maintain the accord, but added his country "will certainly defend ourselves and respond to any threat against our national security."

Kono also expressed his concern to Zarif about the situation and promised to "spare no efforts to ease tensions and try to resolve outstanding issues."

The two agreed on the importance of maintaining the nuclear deal, with Kono saying, "It is essential to maintain this scheme, not only for our bilateral relations but also for the international non-proliferation regime and peace and stability in the Middle East."

According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Abe also expressed hope that Iran will keep its commitments under the deal.

On May 8, Iran announced it plans to keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear deal initially sealed with the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. Tehran has set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms.

Tension has also grown, with Washington sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf.

For energy-scarce Japan, Iran has been one of the major oil exporters, but this month the United States ended waivers granted to Japan and other buyers of Iranian oil to cut off Tehran's oil revenue.

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