Japan PM Abe Considering Visit to Iran as Early as Mid-June – NHK

TOKYO, May 24 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering a visit to Iran as early as mid-June, NHK national television said on Friday, the first such trip in four decades, as global concern grows about rising tension between Iran and the United States.

Iran said the visit was unlikely in the near future.

The United States withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, and is ratcheting up sanctions on the Middle East nation in efforts to strangle its economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.

Japan was a major buyer of Iranian oil for decades before the U.S. sanctions.

The report on plans for a visit by Abe comes a week after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Japan and met the prime minister and Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

NHK said Abe was likely to discuss his plan for a Tehran visit with U.S. President Donald Trump when the latter visits Japan from Saturday, and a final decision might rest on the results of that.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by state media that President Hassan Rouhani had invited Abe to Tehran “a while ago, and he replied he will visit at an appropriate time.

“Some published reports are far from reality and have no credibility,” Mousavi added.

Asked about the state of preparations for such a visit, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also denied the NHK report.

Asked if it would figure in discussions with Trump, Suga said only that the talks would be “wide-ranging”. He declined to comment directly on what Japan might be able to do, in the context of its good ties with both nations.

“Our country has traditionally had friendly relations with Iran,” he said, adding that Japan hoped to be able to contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East.

No Japanese prime minister has visited Tehran since 1978, not long before the Shah of Iran was toppled by the Islamic Revolution.

During his visit to Japan, Zarif said Iran was committed to its obligations under the international nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark agreement. He called the reimposition of U.S. sanctions “unacceptable”.

The Islamic Republic also denies the Trump administration’s accusations of possible Iranian plots against the United States and its allies.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London Editing by Mark Heinrich)