TEHRAN: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) listens to his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar during bilateral talks in the capital Tehran yesterday.-AFP

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday welcomed Japan's decision not to join a US-led naval mission in the Gulf and said he had discussions on ways of "breaking" US sanctions on a trip to Tokyo. Friction between Tehran and Washington has increased since last year when US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions on the country, crippling its economy.

Washington proposed the naval mission after several attacks in May and June on international merchant vessels, including Saudi tankers, in Gulf waters which the United States blamed on Iran. Tehran denies the accusations.

In July, Iranian forces seized a British tanker in the Gulf after British marines captured an Iranian vessel in the Strait of Gibraltar. Both ships were later released. "Japan has announced it will not take part in the Americans' plans for security in the (Gulf) region … which is something we welcome," Rouhani said on state TV after returning from a visit to Malaysia and Japan.

"Japan is sending a surveillance vessel but not to the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz," he said. Rouhani said his discussions in Japan included ways of "breaking" the US sanctions.

"On breaking the sanctions, the Japanese had a new proposal and we also had a new proposal and we discussed this and it was decided to continue the consultations between the two countries on this issue," Rouhani said, without giving details. Following his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Rouhani tweeted on Friday: "I welcome any effort that could boost economic exchanges, especially in the energy sector, and increase oil exports."

A Japanese official who gave a briefing to reporters said crude oil purchases were not discussed at the summit meeting. Japan was a leading buyer of Iranian oil for decades before the US-led sanctions.

Japan, a US ally maintaining friendly ties with Iran, is looking to launch its own naval operation rather than joining the US-led mission to protect shipping in the region. The planned Japanese operation is set to cover high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but not the Strait of Hormuz. According to a draft plan approved by parties in the ruling coalition, Japan will deploy a destroyer and a patrol aircraft for gathering information in the Gulf region - which has been the source of nearly 90 percent of Japan's crude oil imports.

A European operation to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf will get underway next month when a French warship starts patrolling there. The French government has pushed for a European security alternative after ruling out taking part in the US-led mission.

Parole denial

Iran's prosecutor general has denied conditional release for a jailed British-Iranian mother and a prominent human rights activist, a lawyer for the two said, according to state media."We had requested conditional parole and furlough for both Nazanin Zaghari and Narges Mohammadi, and the prosecutor general has disagreed with both," Mahmoud Behzadirad said, quoted late Saturday by state news agency IRNA.

"Conditional parole is my clients' legal right," the lawyer added. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking her then 22-month-old daughter to visit her family. She had been working for Thomson Reuters Foundation-the media organization's philanthropic arm-and was sentenced to five years in jail for sedition. Mohammadi, 47, was the spokeswoman for the Centre of Human Rights Defenders in Iran and had campaigned against the death penalty.

Initially arrested in 2015, the mother-of-two was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison for "forming and managing an illegal group" among other charges. The human rights activist reportedly suffers from a neurological disease that causes muscular paralysis.

She "must be examined… at least every six months but has not been for several months now," the lawyer said, noting that even the intelligence ministry, as the security body handling the case, had agreed to the leave. "Zaghari has been examined by a psychiatrist several times and is in a situation similar to Narges Mohammadi," Behzadirad added.

The British-Iranian's daughter, Gabriela, returned to Britain in October after having stayed with relatives in Iran since her mother's detention, visiting her every week. The two women launched a three-day hunger strike in January and ended it after being allowed to resume medical treatment outside the prison, according to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband. - Reuters