Saudi Arabia says its oil tankers were attacked Sunday off the coast of UAE port city of Fujairah.; In this Friday, May 10, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, logistics specialists attach cargo to an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier strike group is being deployed to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged but still-unspecified threat from Iran. DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in the Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local): The Qatar-funded satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera says that Doha is trying to "defuse escalating tensions" across the Persian Gulf. Al-Jazeera cited an anonymous official on Wednesday night as saying that Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani had traveled to Tehran in recent days to speak with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran's foreign minister said Thursday he is not interested in negotiating with the United States after it pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated stifling economic sanctions on Tehran. "No, there is no possibility for negotiations," Mohammad Javad Zarif answered when asked in an interview with Kyodo News and other Japanese news outlets in Tokyo whether he would be open to holding bilateral talks aimed at easing tensions, including discussions of a proposed prisoner swap. Zarif had said as recently as April that he was willing to exchange Iranian prisoners in the United States, Germany and Australia held on "phony" charges with foreign prisoners in Iran. But Zarif said such a deal was no longer on the table because the United States had set unspecified preconditions. "(The United States) is not in a position to impose preconditions on Iran," he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting Iran in June for talks with its leadership in a bid to help ease escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, government sources said Friday. Abe is expected to make a final decision after consulting with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Saturday as a state guest. If realized, Abe will be the first sitting Japanese prime minister in about four decades to visit Iran. Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda visited the Middle Eastern country in 1978. As Japan has traditionally maintained amicable ties with Iran, Abe hopes to encourage Tehran to keep its commitments under a 2015 international nuclear deal, according to the sources.
As leader of a country that is a close ally of the United States and also has a long friendship with Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to have his skills tested as a mediator between Washington and Tehran amid rising tensions between them. "Japan is concerned about surging tensions surrounding the Middle East," Abe told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during their meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on May 16, calling on Iran to refrain from provoking the United States and defuse tensions. Zarif visited Japan in a hurry, ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's four-day trip to the country from Saturday. The Trump administration, which views Iran as an enemy and has imposed economic sanctions on the country, ramped up pressure on Tehran this month by dispatching an aircraft carrier strike group and strategic bombers to the Middle East. Iran countered by announcing its intention to suspend some of its obligations under a 2015 nuclear deal and threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz, a key channel for global crude oil transportation.
Iran accused the United States Thursday of an "unacceptable" escalation of tensions and said Tehran was showing "maximum restraint" despite Washington's withdrawal from a nuclear deal with world powers. Tensions were already high after President Donald Trump walked away a year ago from the accord, which eased international sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program. But tensions have ratcheted up, with the U.S. deploying an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over alleged threats from Iran. "The escalation by the United States is unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in Tokyo, where he is holding talks with Japanese officials. "We exercise maximum restraint … in spite of the fact that the United States withdrew from JCPOA last May," Zarif said earlier, referring to the agreement on Tehran's nuclear program, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.