Trump says US not looking for regime change in Iran

US President Donald Trump speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 23, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The United States is not seeking regime change in Iran, President Donald Trump said Monday (May 27), as tensions between the two countries rise with Washington deploying troops to the region.

"We're not looking for regime change, we're looking for no nuclear weapons," Trump said at a press conference in Tokyo, adding that he thinks "we'll make a deal" with Teheran.

Mr Trump earlier on Monday held out the possibility of negotiations with Iran as he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is reportedly weighing a trip to Teheran.

"I do believe that Iran would like to talk, and if they'd like to talk, we'd like to talk also," Mr Trump said.

He expressed support for Mr Abe playing a role in facilitating talks with Iran after the Japanese leader reportedly offered his services as an intermediary amid mounting tensions in the Middle East.

Japan, a close ally of the US, has also maintained ties with Iran. It welcomed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on a visit earlier this month and has expressed support for the 2015 multinational accord restricting Iran's nuclear programme that was rejected by the Trump administration

"We'll see what happens, but I know for a fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Abe) is very close with the leadership of Iran... Nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me."

Japanese media reported last week that Mr Abe was considering a visit to Iran as soon as June. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the reports weren't true.

Mr Trump ratcheted up pressure by ordering punishing new economic sanctions on Iran after withdrawing America last year from a 2015 nuclear deal with Teheran's leaders.

The agreement, which sought to ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for an end to Iran's nuclear programme, is still backed by European allies as well as China and Russia. Japan was not a party to the deal.

Frictions heightened this month after the US claimed, without citing evidence, that Teheran was planning an escalated campaign against American interests in the Middle East.

The US dispatched an aircraft carrier and bombers to the region, and Mr Trump last week ordered more troops to the area. The US is also pressing ahead with sales of weapons to rival Middle Eastern states.

Iran's top diplomats are touring neighbouring countries, including three Arab Gulf monarchies, to try to shore up support.

While maintaining ties with Iran, Japan has also cut back its oil purchases from the country to 3 per cent of its total oil imports, so the end of U.S. sanction waivers is expected to have relatively little impact, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

A visit by Mr Abe would be the first by an incumbent prime minister since 1978. Since Mr Abe took office in 2012, high profile Japanese visitors to Iran have included ministers and special envoys, as well as Mr Abe's wife, Akie, and his brother, Nobuo Kishi. Mr Abe's father Shintaro, then foreign minister, visited in 1983.

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