TEHRAN (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday as part of his two-day mission to help ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.
While the two countries have long enjoyed amicable ties, Abe is the first Japanese premier to meet with the Iranian supreme leader, who has ultimate authority over the country's policy direction.
Khamenei has taken a hard-line approach toward the United States, in contrast to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with whom Abe held talks on Wednesday. Rouhani is considered more moderate and reached a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers in 2015.
Among the leaders of countries with close ties to the United States, Abe is also the first to meet with Khamenei since the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump's abrupt pullout in 2018 from the nuclear deal.
Abe is in Tehran in an attempt to serve as a mediator between Iran and the United States, Japan's longtime security ally, with tensions having flared in recent weeks and worries growing about accidental military clashes in the Middle East, a vital area for energy-poor Japan.
Abe's trip, which is also the first by a Japanese leader to Iran since the country's Islamic Revolution in 1979, is seen as an attempt to boost Tokyo's diplomatic profile abroad.
During his talks with Abe, Rouhani indicated Iran does not want a further escalation of the situation in the Middle East or war with the United States. But the president blamed the United States, and in particular what he described as the "economic war" Washington has launched against Tehran, for the heightened regional tensions.
Rouhani called for the lifting of oil sanctions by the United States and asked Abe to inform Trump of its demand, an Iranian government source said.
Iran said in May it was suspending some of its commitments under the nuclear deal. Tehran set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms, saying it would keep more enriched uranium than allowed under the agreement initially reached with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Washington has stepped up its military presence in the Middle East. It has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Persian Gulf and decided to send additional U.S. troops.
The last Japanese prime minister to visit Iran was Takeo Fukuda in 1978. Tokyo's ties with Tehran date back to 1929, with this year marking the 90th anniversary of the start of their diplomatic relationship.
Since Abe returned to office in 2012, he has met with Rouhani eight times. The Japanese leader told a joint press appearance on Wednesday that he hopes to meet the Iranian president again "soon" without elaborating.