Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at Saadabad Palace in Tehran on June 12, 2019

Tehran (AFP) - Japan’s visiting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Iran to play a “constructive role” for peace in the Middle East on Wednesday after meeting with President Hassan Rouhani.

“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with the Iranian leader.

This was “so that the region will not destabilise any further and that no accidental clash will occur in the midst of recent rising tensions,” said the Japanese leader.

Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a “very positive change” in the Middle East and the world if the United States stops its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions.

“If there are some tensions, (their) roots stem from America’s economic war against Iran. Whenever it stops we will witness a very positive change in the region and the world,” Rouhani said.

“We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response,” the Iranian president added.

Abe began his visit to Iran on Wednesday, the first by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years, with the stated aim of defusing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Japan stopped importing Iranian crude oil in May to comply with US sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Rouhani said he saw “Japan’s interest in continuing to buy oil from Iran and fixing financial issues” as a “guarantee” for the ongoing development of bilateral ties.

The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said “both of us are against”.

Abe, for his part, expressed his “deep respect to the fact that the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei reiterates the fatwa which says ‘nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are against Islam’”.

Japan’s premier is expected to meet Khamenei on Thursday morning.