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Japan's defense chief conveys concerns to Iran over tensions

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Defense Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart Amir Hatami, conveying to him Japan's concerns over rising tensions in the Middle East.

"80 percent of Japan's crude oil imports come through the Strait of Hormuz. The stability of the region is directly connected to Japan's energy security," Kono told reporters after their conversation.

Despite having a long history of diplomatic ties, prior to this conversation, Japanese and Iranian defense ministers had never had any form of bilateral talks, according to Japan's Defense Ministry.

Kono, a former foreign minister who assumed the new post in a Cabinet reshuffle last month, said during the talks, held at the request of Tehran, he also called on the country to play a constructive role in fostering peace and stability in the region.

Drone attacks on key oil facilities in Saudi Arabia in September and the "Hormuz Peace Initiative," a plan that Iran has advocated to ensure the safety of the strait, were other issues discussed by the two ministers, Kono said, though he declined to go into detail.

Kono said he welcomed the request for talks as he believes it is important to build a relationship that allows them to "exchange views frankly" amid the tense situation in the Middle East.

Japan has tried to balance its traditional amicable ties with Iran and its relationship with the United States, its closest security ally that has blamed Tehran for the drone attacks.

Hatami congratulated Kono on his new post, according to the ministry.

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