Japan’s Abe begins Gulf tour in Saudi Arabia amid tensions

Japan’s Abe starts a Gulf tour from Saudi Arabia, hoping to ease tensions

Japan’s premier arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Gulf tour during which he hopes to ease tensions after the US killed a top Iranian general.

The official Saudi news agency SPA said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his delegation were received by senior officials including Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri.

During his five-day tour, Abe will also visit the United Arab Emirates and Oman, where a new ruler was sworn in on Saturday following the death of modern day Oman’s founding father Sultan Qaboos.

Abe’s Gulf trip had initially been thrown into doubt after Tehran responded to the US’ January 3 killing of Qassem Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles at bases hosting American troops in Iraq.

The escalation prompted fears of an all-out war.

Those fears have subsided however after US President Donald Trump said Iran appeared to be standing down after targeting the US bases in Iraq.

“To avoid further escalation of the tense situation in the Middle East, (Abe) will exchange opinions with the three countries” he is visiting, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said ahead of the visit.

“In each of the countries, we plan to ask for cooperation in ensuring a stable energy supply and the safety of vessels,” he added.

Japan last month announced it would deploy a military vessel and two patrol planes to the region to protect its shipping interests.

Abe has in recent months tried to carve out a role as mediator between Japan’s ally Washington and Tehran, with which Tokyo has longstanding ties.