İrem UZUN -TDO-  Visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday in Tokyo, urging Japan to pursue stronger relations and to assist the Middle Eastern country, which is suffering under the weight of severe U.S.-imposed economic sanctions.

Rouhani, the first Iranian president to visit Japan in 19 years, told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the nuclear agreement with world powers remained crucial. “The nuclear deal is an extremely important agreement, and that’s why I strongly condemn the United States’ one-sided and irrational withdrawal,” Rouhani said through a translator. “We hope that Japan and other countries in the world will make efforts toward maintaining the agreement.”

With a formal decision pending, Tokyo is planning to deploy a destroyer and a patrol plane to enhance its intelligence-gathering capabilities in areas outside the Strait of Hormuz. Such a dispatch remains a sensitive and divisive issue under the war-renouncing Constitution but the Middle East is a critical region for resource-poor Japan. Abe also expressed "serious concern" about heighted Middle East tensions and said Iran needs to play a "constructive" role in stabilizing the situation.

Iranian officials have expressed hope that Japan will resume buying Iranian crude oil by defying or bypassing U.S.-imposed sanctions, which have led to severe inflation, damaging the livelihoods of Iranians.  But according to a senior Japanese official who briefed reporters later in the day, Rouhani didn’t bring up the topic during the meeting with Abe.  Senior Japanese officials have said Tokyo won’t be able to satisfy Tehran’s wishes as Washington has maintained a tough stance against anyone who defies the sanctions.

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