Iran to seek Japan’s help in mediation with US over oil sanctions, say officials

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Iran will ask Japan to mediate between Tehran and Washington to ease oil sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranian officials said ahead of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe, the first Japanese leader to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, arrives in Tehran as 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 or extend the waivers or suspend them,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

On a four-day visit to Japan last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the very good relationship between Tokyo and Tehran.

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.

Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharply increased in recent weeks, a year after the United States abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’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 May, 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.