(Bloomberg) -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told visiting Shinzo Abe that his country doesn’t intend to produce, possess or use nuclear weapons, the Japanese leader said after a trip aimed at easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Abe, making the first visit of a sitting Japanese prime minister to Iran in 41 years, held talks with Khamenei on Thursday. Abe said he conveyed to Khamenei what he thought were the views of U.S. President Donald Trump, who sanctioned the visit when he met Abe for a summit in May.
“Ayatollah Khamenei said that he would not produce, possess or use nuclear weapons, that he had no such intention, and it was something that should not be done,” Abe told reporters, adding the Iranian leader spoke of his belief in peace.
Expectations were low for the visit bringing a major breakthrough in the tensions between Iran and the U.S. that threaten to spill into armed conflict. But with strong personal ties to Trump and Japan having maintained good relations with Iran for decades, Abe was seen as being able to open a line of communication between Washington and Tehran that could ease some friction.
The visit came as the U.S. shows little sign of backing off on sanctions it reimposed after abandoning a 2015 accord meant to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Tensions have spiked in the Gulf since the U.S. halted sanctions waivers early last month that had allowed some major importers, including Japan, to continue buying Iranian oil.
A missile attack on a Saudi Arabian airport by Tehran-backed Yemeni rebels ratcheted up tensions in the Gulf just as Abe’s efforts got underway. The region has been churning since Washington piled more sanctions on Iran in May and unleashed a show of military force, sending an aircraft carrier to the region. Those moves drew a threat from Iran to retreat from the nuclear deal.
While Abe was in Iran, Japan received a reminder of the dangers in the region. Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko said the ministry held an emergency meeting Thursday over a tanker attack in Sea of Oman, according to a tweet from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The attack involved two ships that carried Japan-related goods, it said.
--With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa and Karen Leigh.
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