By Kiyoshi Takenaka
YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan will try to help ease tension in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Tuesday as he began a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif said he looked forward to discussions with Kono as both countries had special interests in the security of the energy market and stability in the Gulf.
“We are worried about tension in the Middle East and we hope to make some diplomatic effort to ease the tension,” Kono told reporters as he stood with Zarif.
“We wanted to have a direct and frank conversation with you today,” he said to Zarif.
The two smiled and shook hands before sitting down for talks as the media were ushered out.
Japan has historically had friendly ties with Iran and is also a close U.S. ally.
Tension between Iran and the United States has risen since President Donald Trump’s administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions.
Iranian officials have denounced the new penalties as “economic warfare”.
French President Emmanuel Macron opened an avenue towards a diplomatic solution to the U.S.-Iran standoff at a Group of Seven summit on the weekend, saying that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had told him he was open to a meeting with Trump.
Trump told a news conference it was realistic to envisage a meeting with the Iranian head of government in coming weeks. Both leaders are scheduled to attend the U.N. General Assembly next month.
But on Tuesday, Rouhani said Iran would not talk to the United States until all sanctions were lifted.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)