Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tokyo and Tehran are coordinating a possible visit to Japan this month by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss how to defuse tensions in the Middle East, sources from the two governments said.

The possible trip was apparently raised in a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araghchi in Tokyo on Dec. 3.

If Rouhani does visit Japan, he would be the first Iranian president to do so since Mohammad Khatami traveled to the Japanese capital in October 2000.

Abe in June became the first Japanese prime minister in 41 years to visit Iran. He met with Rouhani and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a time when friction was rapidly increasing between Iran and the United States.

Araghchi, who arrived in Tokyo on Dec. 2 as Rouhani’s special envoy, met with Abe for about 40 minutes on Dec. 3.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, Abe told Araghchi about Tokyo’s plan to approve before the end of the year the deployment of a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer to waters in the Middle East.

Araghchi expressed hopes that Japan would take further action to help calm the situation in the Middle East. Abe said he would continue to make diplomatic efforts with that objective in mind.

Animosity between Tehran and Washington has intensified since the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump strengthened economic sanctions against Iran.

As a retaliatory measure, Iran in May went against a 2015 multinational agreement on halting its nuclear program and began exceeding restrictions on uranium enrichment. The United States under Trump unilaterally withdrew from that agreement.

Finding itself increasingly isolated, Iran may try to use a visit by Rouhani to demonstrate its continued close ties to Japan.

Tokyo and Tehran have had a long, friendly relationship based largely on petroleum imports.

But it remains to be seen if Abe can play an effective role as a bridge between Iran and the United States.

When Abe was meeting with Khamenei in Tehran, two tankers, including one registered with a Japanese company, were attacked in the Persian Gulf. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks.