Japan is working on a plan to send 270 seamen to the Middle East to guard ships supplying Japan under a law allowing military deployments for research and intelligence gathering, the Nikkei business daily said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering a January visit to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the paper added.
Japan maintains friendly ties with the US and Iran and said it would not join any US coalition to protect merchant vessels in the region.
The Nikkei said government proposed deploying an escort ship and a patrol aircraft from the Maritime Self-Defence Force on a one-year mission that could be renewed annually. It plans to finalise the plan by year-end, the Nikkei said.
Global commodity trading was rocked this year by attacks on international merchant vessels Japan’s Western allies blamed on Iran. Tehran denies involvement.
Tensions heightened between Tehran and Washington since last year, when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions, crippling its economy.
Japan, which stopped buying oil from Iran because of US sanctions, is eager to see stability in the Middle East, where it sources the bulk of its oil imports.
Abe tried unsuccessfully to ease tensions between the two countries. Iran criticised US efforts to build an alliance to protect shipping in the Gulf and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Japanese public broadcaster NHK Tehran was opposed to foreign forces in the region.
Iran also proposed a visit to Japan by President Hassan Rouhani to resolve Iran’s nuclear impasse with Washington, Kyodo news reported.
Japan’s pacifist constitution bans a standing military but allows self-defence forces. The prospect of deploying navy personnel to the region sparked calls for caution from liberal media and other critics.