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Japan says no change in Middle East deployment plans to protect ships -govt

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks at a news conference after the reshuffling of the Japanese cabinet at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Wednesday it will stick with plans to deploy Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East to ensure the safety of its ships, even amid heightened tensions after the United States’ killing of an Iranian military commander.

Japan’s National Security Council will meet to discuss the region, while no decision has been made about whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will proceed with a planned trip this weekend to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also told a news conference.

“We’ll monitor the situation closely and then make a decision,” he said.

TV Asahi reported earlier that Abe will cancel the trip.

Even before tensions escalated with the United States’ killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, Japan was in a tough spot diplomatically, having friendly ties with both Washington and Tehran.

Rather than join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the region, the Japanese government has opted to launch its own security operation, with plans to start deploying patrol planes some time in January.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Edwina Gibbs