Abe meets Saudi King Salman, calls for cooperation to stabilize Middle East during talks with foreign minister

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday sought cooperation from Saudi Arabia to ensure stability in the Middle East amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions.

In his meeting with Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who is also Saudi foreign minister, Abe said he is “deeply worried” about the Middle East situation and Tokyo is aiming to help reduce the tensions through diplomatic efforts.

Abe also explained Japan’s planned dispatch of a Self-Defense Forces destroyer and patrol planes to the region to gather information and thereby help ensure safety of commercial shipping, according to the Foreign Ministry.

In response, the Saudi foreign minister hailed the decision, saying that it is the responsibility of “all countries concerned” to secure safe navigation, the ministry said.

Abe met with Saudi King Salman on Sunday afternoon and he will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later in the day.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter and a crucial supplier to resource-poor Japan, is the first leg of Abe’s five-day trip that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Japan relies on the region for about 90 percent of its oil imports.

His visit comes as concerns about a U.S.-Iran military conflict receded somewhat after U.S. President Donald Trump did not resort to further military action last week against Iran, which had hit Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops with missiles. The Iranian attack was in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian commander.

Saudi Arabia has built good relations with the United States while both countries have harbored hostility toward Iran.

Japan, for its part, has been encouraging dialogue between Tehran and Washington, mired in a standoff over a 2015 nuclear deal.

Abe has been calling on all parties involved to exercise restraint and prevent the situation from further escalating.

Japan is sending SDF personnel and assets to enhance its own intelligence-gathering capabilities in areas that include the Gulf of Oman and part of the Arabian Sea.

But the Strait of Hormuz near Iran, a key shipping lane, is excluded as Japan wants to draw a clear distinction between its mission and a U.S.-led maritime security initiative that Tokyo has not joined.

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