TOKYO • Mr Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving Prime Minister, has said he is "not thinking" of staying on as ruling party leader beyond the end of his current term in September next year.
Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called for Mr Abe to continue as party president for a fourth straight term, and thus prime minister, because of his record of six straight election wins.
"I'm really not thinking of that," Mr Abe said in an interview with national broadcaster NHK, recorded before he left for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman over the weekend. "It's not in any corner of my mind."
Mr Abe said he is also not thinking about calling an election at present, but he would not hesitate to do so when the time is right.
He arrived last Saturday in Saudi Arabia for the start of a Gulf tour, during which he hopes to ease tensions after the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States.
The official Saudi news agency SPA said Mr Abe and his delegation were received by senior officials including Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri.
During his five-day tour, Mr Abe will also visit the UAE and Oman, where a new ruler was sworn in last Saturday following the death of modern-day Oman's founding father, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
Mr Abe's trip had initially been thrown into doubt after Teheran responded to the US' killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani by launching missiles at Iraqi bases hosting American troops.
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 the missile attacks.
"To avoid further escalation of the tense situation in the Middle East, (Mr 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.
Last month, Japan announced it would deploy a military vessel and two patrol planes to the region to protect its shipping interests.
Mr Abe has, in recent months, tried to carve out a role as mediator between Japan's ally Washington and Teheran, with which Tokyo has longstanding ties.
Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Mr Abe in Tokyo after a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to Teheran last 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 Teheran.
"I'm deeply concerned about the tensions in the Middle East," Mr Abe was quoted as saying by NHK earlier last week. He added that he hoped "to contribute to peace and stability in the region through diplomatic efforts".
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE