Japan's Abe says will make every effort to reduce tension with Iran

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo would like to fulfil what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan wants to make every effort to reduce tension between the United States and Iran before responding to an expected US request to send its navy to safeguard strategic waters off Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday (July 22).

Japanese media have said Washington's proposal to boost surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen, where it blames Iran and its proxies for tanker attacks, could be on the agenda during a visit to Tokyo this week by US national security adviser John Bolton.

Abe said that before making a decision on joining with the United States, Tokyo would like to fulfil what it sees as a unique role it has to play in reducing tension.

"We have a long tradition of friendship with Iran and I've met with its president any number of times, as well as other leaders," Abe told a news conference after his coalition's victory in a Sunday (July 21) election for Parliament's upper house.

"Before we make any decisions on what to do, Japan would like to make every effort to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States."

Tokyo needs to gather information on what Washington is thinking and what it hopes to accomplish, Abe said, but added that the two key allies remain in close contact.

As Abe spoke, Bolton was meeting Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, although the two did not speak to the media before their talks. Bolton, who heads to South Korea after Japan, earlier met top Japanese national security adviser Shotaro Yachi.

During his news conference, Abe also called for debate on revising Japan's post-war, pacifist constitution, saying the previous day's election result showed it was what voters wanted.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won a solid majority, but together with like-minded allies, fell short of the two-thirds "super majority" needed to begin the controversial process of amending the constitution, never changed since it was adopted after Japan's World War Two defeat.

Abe has long sought to revise the constitution's pacifist Article 9 to further legitimise the military, but public opinion is divided.

He is expected to try to win backing from members of the second largest opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People.

"The judgement of the people (in the election) was that debate should take place," he said. "I want to have serious debate that goes beyond the boundaries of ruling versus opposition parties."

The solid showing of Abe's bloc means he has avoided becoming a lame duck in the final two years of his third three-year term as party leader and is on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier if he stays in his post until November.

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