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The Latest: Japanese leader seeks to cool US-Iran tensions

June 13, 2019
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, reviews an honor guard as he is welcomed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, in an official arrival ceremony at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The Japanese leader is in Tehran on an mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, reviews an honor guard as he is welcomed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, in an official arrival ceremony at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The Japanese leader is in Tehran on an mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):

12:25 a.m.

The leader of Japan is visiting Iran to warn that an “accidental conflict” could be sparked amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered that message just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.

Abe’s trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. The Trump administration pulled out of the accord last year.

Success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha regional airport underscored. The attack is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen.

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9:40 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underlined a joint commitment to finding peaceful solutions to the standoff over Iran as she meets with one of Tehran’s most prominent regional rivals.

Germany is one of the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is trying to salvage the agreement following the United States’ withdrawal and amid increasing impatience in Tehran. Germany’s foreign minister visited Iran Monday.

Merkel met Wednesday with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf kingdom’s de facto ruler and a critic of Iran. She said that, although their countries hold partly diverging views, “the will to reach peaceful solutions unites us.”

The crown prince didn’t mention Iran in a brief statement to reporters on his wide-ranging talks with Merkel in Berlin. The leaders took no questions.

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9:25 p.m.

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on an Iraq-based affiliate of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Treasury Department says the penalties target the South Wealth Resources Company in Baghdad and two executives. The U.S. says the company and the two men are linked to the Guard’s foreign wing, or Quds Force.

The administration last month designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, which makes providing the Guard with material support illegal under U.S. law.

The new sanctions freeze any assets that the targets may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.

The announcement comes as Japan’s prime minister visits Iran in an effort to lower tensions between Washington and Tehran.

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9:05 p.m.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for “more patience” amid tensions between Iran and the U.S.

Abe made the comments Wednesday night beside President Hassan Rouhani after closed-door talks during his visit to Tehran.

Abe says he and Rouhani “bluntly discussed” the crisis.

The Japanese premier added: “There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs.”

Rouhani earlier said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions. Abe did not acknowledge that in his remarks.

Rouhani added: “Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world.”

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8:40 p.m.

Iran’s president says the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the U.S., but will give “a crushing response” if it is attacked.

Rouhani made the comment Wednesday night as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by him.

Rouhani also said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions.

Rouhani added: “Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world.”

The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The Trump administration has re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. The U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.

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8:25 p.m.

Yemeni officials say that the Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes against a Houthi rebel stronghold in the country’s north.

They say the strikes hit targets in the Baqim district, in the province of Saada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

The Wednesday airstrikes came hours after the Iranian-allied rebels launched a cruise missile hitting an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.

The rebel-linked Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed that the Saudi-led forces also bombed civilian areas in another nearby district.

Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government and fighting the Houthi rebels since March 2015.

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Ahmed al-Haj in Saana, Yemen

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5:05 p.m.

Iran’s president has officially welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Hassan Rouhani greeted Abe on his historic visit on Wednesday afternoon in northern Tehran’s Saadabad Palace.

An honor guard on horseback holding the flags of Iran and Japan escorted Abe’s car.

The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The Trump administration has re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. The U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.

Abe is also scheduled to meet the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his two-day visit.

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4:40 p.m.

Iran’s semi-official news agency is reporting that dozens of hard-line students have gathered outside of Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, where the Japanese premier’s plane earlier landed, to protest over possible efforts by Shinzo Abe to calm tensions between Iran and the United States.

Fars news agency reported Wednesday that protesters said “the efforts by Japan’s prime minister for mediating between Iran and the U.S. is useless, and if this is the goal of the trip, it will have no achievement.”

Students held placards, written in Farsi and Japanese, mocking Abe as “Japan’s representative or America’s ambassador.”

A hard-line newspaper also criticized Abe’s visit by printing an image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast on its front page: “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” This appeared to refer to America dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

This is the first visit by a Japanese prime minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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4:15 p.m.

Egypt says it’s standing by Saudi Arabia following the attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that wounded 26 people at a Saudi airport arrivals hall.

The Foreign Ministry, just hours after the attack took place on Wednesday, said Egypt is calling for an immediate halt to all attacks on Saudi territories and will “defy any attempt to target” the kingdom.

The Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, saying they launched a cruise missile at Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia in response to the kingdom’s war in Yemen.

Egypt backs the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states that has been at war against the Houthis in Yemen since 2015. Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the rebels, which Tehran denies.

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4 p.m.

Saudi Arabia’s ally and neighbor Bahrain says it strongly condemns an attack by Yemeni rebels that wounded 26 people at a Saudi airport arrivals hall.

Bahrain says it was a terrorist and cowardly criminal act against innocent civilians.

Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, saying they launched a cruise missile at Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia in response to the kingdom’s war in Yemen.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry expressed support with “the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and affirmed “the need for a strong-willed international stand against Iran to stop it supporting these recurrent terrorist acts.”

The island-nation of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has previously also accused Iran of arming and training Shiite Bahraini militant groups, which Iran denies.

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3:25 p.m.

Shinzo Abe has arrived in Tehran on a mission to ease tensions between Iran and the U.S., becoming the first Japanese prime minister to visit since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Abe’s flight touched down at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

His visit is seen as an effort to mediate amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region. Just ahead of his arrival, Saudi Arabia said Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked one of the kingdom’s airports, wounding 26 people.

The Houthis said they fired a cruise missile at the Abha regional airport.

Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest number of civilians to be wounded in Saudi Arabia as a result of a rebel attack.

The heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington take root in President Donald Trump’s decision a year ago to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

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3 p.m.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry says an Omani envoy is in Baghdad to discuss ways of de-escalating U.S.-Iran tensions.

The two-day visit by Yusuf bin Alawi, Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs, comes against a backdrop of high-stakes diplomatic activity aimed at easing tensions between Washington and Tehran. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected in Tehran later on Wednesday.

Spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf told The Associated Press that bin Alawi will discuss “solutions” for regional challenges, adding that Iraq has become a pivotal country because of its “strategic relations with both Iran and the United States.”

The Sultanate of Oman often plays a role in mediating regional crises. The visit coincides with a flurry of diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

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2:20 p.m.

Iran’s president says that U.S. pressures against his country are losing in strength — the latest defiant rhetoric from Hassan Rouhani amid tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

Rouhani spoke during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, hours ahead of the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran.

Iranian state TV quoted Rouhani as saying that “America’s pressure on the Iranian nation ... has reached its maximum. From today onward, the threats and pressures will lose their capacity and will be exhausted.”

Rouhani was referring to America’s pullout from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago, which is at the root of the current tensions. The tensions further soared over the U.S. recently deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region.

Abe is expected to try save the increasingly unraveling nuclear deal and ease tensions in between Iran and the United States.

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1:40 p.m.

Japanese foreign minister has met with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran a few hours ahead of the start of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historic visit to the Islamic Republic.

Wednesday’s meeting between Japan’s Taro Kono and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif focused on issues such as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, bilateral issues and regional tensions.

Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, is seeking to help ease tensions between Iran and the United States

Last year, the U.S. withdrew from a nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran targeting its oil sector. America also recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran.

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1:05 p.m.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen says 26 people have been wounded as Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted an airport in kingdom’s southwestern town of Abha.

The attack on Wednesday comes as Japan’s prime minister is expected in Iran to mediate between Tehran and Washington amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf regions.

Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki says a projectile struck the arrival hall of Abha’s airport in the southern part of the kingdom near its border with Yemen on Wednesday. That’s according to Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Ekhabriya news channel.

He says three women and two children are among the 26 hurt in the attack. Eight have been hospitalized and the rest sustained minor injuries. The Houthis earlier on Wednesday claimed they’d launched a cruise missile at the Abha airport.

Saudi Arabia has been at war against the Iranian-allied Houthis in Yemen since 2015. The kingdom accuses Iran of arming the rebels, which Iran denies.

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10:45 a.m.

A hard-line Iranian newspaper has printed a front page image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast, meant to criticize the Japanese prime minister’s close ties with the U.S. ahead of his historic visit to Iran.

The daily Farheekhtegan, or Educated, followed it up with a large headline in both English and Farsi, saying: “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?”

The picture appeared to refer to America dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Hard-line news outlets in Iran immediately picked up the front page from the paper, published by students of Islamic Azad University, which has campuses across the nation.

On Wednesday, Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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