Abe to visit Middle East as planned after tensions ease

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a trip to the Middle East as planned, government officials said Thursday, as the United States has backed away from threats of further military action against Iran.
The government had weighed the option of canceling the trip, which begins Saturday and will take Abe to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, following Iranian missile strikes early Wednesday against military bases in Iraq hosting U.S. troops.
Hours after U.S. President Donald Trump denied any intention to respond to the strikes militarily, Abe expressed support Thursday for what he described as a "restrained" move by Japan's longtime ally.
"An all-out confrontation was averted for the time being," a senior Japanese government official said.
In meeting with leaders of the three countries, Abe plans to call for the need to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East while briefing them about Tokyo's plan to send its Self-Defense Forces to the region on an information-gathering mission.
A senior Foreign Ministry official indicated that further escalation of the conflict between the United States and Iran can be avoidable if Tehran does not take additional provocative action.
Japan, which has good relations with both the United States and Iran, hopes to play a role in helping ease tensions over a multilateral nuclear deal and other issues. Since Japan gets most of its crude oil imports from the Middle East, it sees stability in the region as critical.
Trump on Wednesday offered a restrained response to Iran's missile attacks targeting U.S.-led forces in Iraq, saying that his country will impose tougher economic sanctions on Tehran but does not intend to use military power.
Tension spiked as Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases, in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general last week. The move had raised fears of tit-for-tat actions possibly leading to an all-out military conflict.

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