Japan says Russia supports its plan to help ease U.S.-Iran tensions

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu pose for a photograph with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya before their two-plus-two meeting in Tokyo

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu pose for a photograph with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya before their two-plus-two Foreign and Defense Ministers meeting between Japan and Russia at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, May 30, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) - Russia expressed support for Japan's intention to play a role in helping ease tensions between Iran and the United States, an official in Tokyo said on Thursday after a meeting of Japan and Russia's foreign and defense ministers.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's help in dealing with Iran, after Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Abe was considering a trip to Tehran as early as mid-June.

"Traditionally Japan has had friendly ties with Iran," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told a media briefing after the meeting of the four ministers.

"There were comments from the Japanese side that Japan aims to play a role by taking advantage of such ties. The Russian side made a very positive comment in response," the official said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has denied the NHK report aired last Friday, but most major Japanese newspapers have followed up with similar reports since then.

Trump withdrew the United States a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Since then, Trump has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran, seeking to reduce its lifeblood oil exports to zero, to push Tehran into fresh negotiations on a broader arms control deal.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after attacks this month on oil tankers in the Gulf region. Washington, a backer of Tehran's regional rival Saudi Arabia, has blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies the accusations.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold a one-to-one meeting on Friday.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)