Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

Japan sees no increase in risk to its Gulf oil flows

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed met in Abu Dhabi this week

Japan sees “no imminent risk” to its oil imports from the Arabian Gulf after the latest hostilities between the US and Iran, according to a senior Japanese official.

“Our understanding, or our assessment, of the situation is that there is no imminent risk to the safety of Japan-related vessels,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Masato Ohtaka told a press briefing in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

He was speaking after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in the UAE capital.

“We will be keeping a close eye on the situation, of course,” Mr Ohtaka said, referring to the Iranian ballistic missiles attack on American troops in Iraq, which caused no casualties, after a US drone attack killed Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad.

Mr Ohtaka said the UAE “appreciates and welcomes” Japan’s efforts for maritime security, with it dispatching a destroyer on an information gathering mission off the coasts of Oman and Yemen.

He said Sheikh Mohamed told Mr Abe that “as a coastal country the UAE will do its best to cooperate with the dispatch of the Self Defence Forces vessel.”

Mr Abe arrived in the UAE from Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He will travel to Oman on Tuesday.

Japan had refused to join the US naval coalition operating in the Arabian Gulf, although the country, an industrial powerhouse, depends on flows from the Middle East for 90 percent of its oil.

Mr Ohtaka said the prime minister’s tour of the three GCC countries is aimed at “making sure there will be no further escalation of the situation.”

“All the countries that can do so should make diplomatic efforts,” he said.

As tensions rose between the US and Iran last year, the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese tanker carrying 25,000 tonnes of methanol, was attacked in the Gulf of Oman in June.

The US said Iranian forces hit the vessel with mines that attach to target with magnets. Tokyo did not endorse the US assessment of Iranian culpability. The attack occurred as Mr Abe was on a visit to Tehran.

The Japanese spokesman said Mr Abe and Sheikh Mohamed discussed a wide range of issues.

“I think the two leaders had plenty of time today ... but I cannot go into details,” Mr Ohtaka said.

“Only the two leaders and a small number of people were at the meeting,” he said. “This is the kind of setting that you need to be frank with each other.”

Updated: January 14, 2020 10:01 AM

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