DUBAI • Iran will ask Japan to mediate between Teheran and Washington to ease oil sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranian officials said, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in the country for a two-day visit.
Mr Abe - the first Japanese leader to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution - landed in Teheran yesterday, as a brewing confrontation between Iran and the US stokes fear of another military conflict in the crisis-ridden Middle East.
"Japan can help in easing the ongoing tension between Iran and America... As a goodwill gesture, America should either lift the unjust oil sanctions, extend the waivers or suspend them," a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
Iranian state TV broadcast live footage of Mr Abe's arrival, saying that he will later hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani and meet the Islamic Republic's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, today.
On a four-day visit to Japan last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Mr Abe's help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the "very good relationship" between Tokyo and Teheran.
As a US ally that also has good diplomatic relations with Iran, Japan could be in a unique position to mediate between the Islamic Republic and the US.
"Mr Abe can be a great mediator to facilitate that (easing of oil sanctions)... Japan has always respected Iran, and Mr Abe can play a very constructive role to calm the ongoing tension that can harm the (Middle East) region," said another Iranian official, who asked not to be named.
The strain between Washington and Teheran has spiked in recent weeks, a year after the US abandoned a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Teheran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington - calling the nuclear deal flawed and seeking to push Iran into new negotiations - intensified sanctions from the start of last month, ordering all countries and firms to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
It has also dispatched extra armed forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
Last month, Iran announced that in 60 days, it would resume the enrichment of uranium beyond the low fissile purity - suitable for civilian nuclear power generation - allowed under the deal, unless other powers found a way to protect its oil and banking industries from US sanctions.
European parties of the deal have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, but with no success so far. All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of US punishment.
"Japan wants to do as much as possible towards peace and stability in the Middle East," Mr Abe said in Tokyo ahead of his departure, as reported on Iranian TV.
Mr Rouhani said yesterday that Teheran will focus on defending its interests, according to state TV.
"During the talks with foreign leaders, Iran's interests and preserving these rights will be our priority," he was quoted as saying.