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Hassan Rouhani and Shinzo Abe in Tehran. Photo: Presidency of Iran / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe begins two days of meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran on Wednesday — seeking "a frank exchange of views" and following up on a proposal to mediate for the U.S. that President Trump cautiously welcomed in May.

Why it matters: Abe’s visit comes amid Iranian escalation — of both its regional operations and nuclear program — and intensifying U.S. economic pressure. As Iran seeks relief from American sanctions, Abe is likely banking on the U.S.–Japan alliance and his close relationship with Trump to protect Japan’s interests and boost its image.

Flashback: Abe is Japan's first sitting prime minister to visit Iran in over 4 decades, though the country has played a similar go-between role before.

  • In 1983, Abe visited Tehran with his father, then–Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, while trying to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq War.

Background: Japan has had positive, although primarily economic, relations with both the shah’s government and its successor, the Islamic Republic.

  • While Japan was one of 8 nations to receive a waiver to continue purchasing Iranian oil last November, the country has signaled its intention to comply with Washington’s recent decision to terminate all oil waivers and has accordingly cut imports.

Between the lines: Iranian sources believe Japan fears escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf — the source of most of its oil. Tehran might use this fear to spook the Japanese government into trying to persuade the Trump administration to water down its maximum pressure campaign.

What to watch: Abe's meeting with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Thursday could determine the success of his visit. It's Khamenei, rather than President Rouhani, who ultimately controls Iran’s foreign and security policy.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight, hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts on Wednesday.

The big picture: Officials in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley issued air quality alerts as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.