TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Tokyo on Friday for a six-day tour of the Middle East, pledging to play a role in regional stability while also pushing Japan's infrastructure exports.
"I hope to send a message that Japan will offer support in non-military fields to contribute to regional peace and stability," Abe, who is being accompanied by a phalanx of business leaders, told reporters ahead of his departure.
Abe, who will visit Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, said "I hope to send a message to the world that Japan, together with the Middle East, will build a tolerant society." The tour comes "right after the terror attack in Paris, but Islamic society and extremism are totally different from each other," he added, referring to the murderous assault on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Dozens of Japanese company executives are also accompanying Abe, and "we expect to strengthen economic ties with each of these nations," Abe's right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters this week.
Since taking office in Dec 2012, Abe has worked to boost Japan's profile in global affairs. He has visited more than 50 countries including oil-rich Gulf nations - but not Japan's neighbours China and South Korea, with which Tokyo is at odds over territory and history.
The last time a Japanese leader visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories was in 2006 when Junichiro Koizumi was in office. Abe was the last premier to visit Egypt during his brief first stint in the top job in 2007.
Abe will meet Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and express support for Cairo, which Suga called "a key player in bringing stability" to the region.
He is scheduled to deliver a policy speech on the Middle East in the Egyptian capital.
Abe will then visit Jordan for talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II on Sunday, where he is expected to announce Japan's support for the country as it deals with an influx of refugees from Syria who are fleeing Islamic State militants there.
He will also have talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and separately with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on the last leg of his tour.
His itinerary includes a visit to Yad Vashem - Israel's national memorial in Jerusalem to the victims of the Holocaust, 70 years after the end of World War II.