0748 GMT January 25, 2020
Iran’s foreign minister told Japan’s prime minister on Wednesday that Tehran is not seeking to increase tensions but every country should be able to enjoy its rights under international law.
Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comment in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at the beginning of a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as tensions between Iran and the United States have soared in recent months.
"As our president has said, we are not at all seeking heightened tensions," Zarif said, speaking through a translator.
"We believe every country should be able to enjoy its rights under international law."
Tensions have been running high between the US and Iran since Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May last year and reimposition of illegal sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at forcing it to renegotiate the new deal.
Tensions between the two nations further deteriorated after the US sent an aircraft carrier, a bomber task force, an assault ship, and around 1,500 additional forces to the Middle East.
Iran shot down a US surveillance drone on June 20 following its violation of its airspace.
Several oil tankers were also targeted near the Persian Gulf last month, with Washington and its ally Saudi Arabia quickly blaming Iran for the suspicious attacks. Tehran has rejected the accusations of its involvement as baseless.
Abe told Zarif that he hopes to continue tenacious diplomatic efforts to help stabilize the Middle East.
The Japanese prime minister, carrying a message from the US president, traveled to Iran in June and met with Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei as well as President Hassan Rouhani in a bid to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Ayatollah Khamenei told the Japanese premier that “I personally do not consider Trump worthy of exchanging any messages with, and do not have and will not have any response for him”.
On Tuesday, Rouhani said the US should lift all its “cruel” and “unlawful” sanctions against Iran and begin respecting the nation’s rights as a “first step” toward dialogue, emphasizing that the Islamic Republic will not engage in any negotiations for the mere sake of photo opportunities.
The Iranian president made the remarks, one day after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed hope for a meeting between Rouhani and his American counterpart “in the next few weeks.”
“We seek to resolve issues and problems in a rational way but we are not after photos. For anyone wanting to take a picture with Hassan Rouhani, this is not possible” unless that party chooses to set aside all the oppressive sanctions and respect the Iranian nation’s rights, the Iranian president said in a speech aired live on state television.
Iran, he added, sits at the negotiating table with others only in order to secure its people’s rights and interests.
Tehran will make a change in its approach toward “those waging economic terrorism” against the country only if they “repent” of their past mistakes and turn back from the wrong path they have taken.
According to Japan's Foreign Ministry, Abe plans to meet Rouhani in New York next month.
The ministry said on Wednesday the meeting was arranged during Zarif's visit and would take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.
Japan has long been a major importer of Iranian oil and was one of eight countries given a waiver by Washington on buying directly from Tehran after the US reimposed sanctions.
Following the Wednesday meeting between Zarif and Abe, the Iranian foreign minister said he has held “constructive” negotiations with Japanese officials on a range of issues, among them bilateral relations.
In a Japanese-language post on his Twitter account on Wednesday, Zarif said that he had met with Japanese prime minister and Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Tokyo on the second leg of his three-nation Asian tour.
On Tuesday, Zarif sat down with Kono in Tokyo, where the latter expressed Japan’s readiness to make diplomatic efforts to help settle regional issues.
The top Iranian diplomat visited China on Monday and left Japan for Malaysia on Wednesday.
He began his Asian tour after a short visit to the French city of Biarritz, where a meeting of the world’s seven top economic powers, known as G7, was held.
Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.