Iran, in the US firing line over its nuclear programme, has surprisingly found support from Japan, a key ally of Washington, over its application for an observer status at the SAARC.
"Regional cooperation in SAARC involving Iran can help in the development and democratisation of Iran," Mitsuo Sakaba, director-general for press and public relations in Japan's ministry of foreign affairs, told the agency in an interview.
SAARC leaders are expected to discuss Iran's participation as an observer at the next SAARC summit at the two-day New Delhi summit that began on Tuesday.
SAARC foreign ministers have cleared Iran's plea for observer status.
Japan's support for Iran's request may not go down well with the US, which is banking on its key allies to isolate Tehran over its nuclear programme. The US is not happy with SAARC's keenness to include Iran as an observer.
"Japan is in favour of India playing a key role in invigorating SAARC. It's time for SAARC to strengthen its vision of bilateral ties," Sakaba stressed.
Outside support is important for regional integration as is the case with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Sakaba said, while alluding to the maiden participation of the US, the European Union, Japan, China and South Korea as observers at the 14th SAARC summit.
About Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso representing Tokyo at the summit, Sakaba said that it was like a wish come true for Tokyo as it had been waiting to be associated with SAARC right from its inception in 1985.
"We have been waiting for this moment for over two decades," he said. Japan has contributed $7 million into the SAARC-Japan special fund and will support the eight-nation grouping in various regional infrastructure and transport projects.
Tokyo will also assist the region in disaster mitigation and earthquake prevention, Sakaba said.
The focus of SAARC should be on promoting people-to-people connectivity in the region, he said, while alluding to a five-year Japanese programme of promoting youth exchanges between his country and SAARC.
Japan is also concerned about growing terrorism in the region and has advocated regional cooperation on this issue.
Referring to the meeting Aso had with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz Tuesday, Sakaba said the minister conveyed Japan's support for Pakistan's efforts to combat terrorism.
At the meeting with Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyopo Khandu Wangchuk, Aso committed $30 million for rural electrification in the Himalayan country.
Conjuring a robustly optimistic future for SAARC, Aso, in his address at the summit, had called South Asia a "growth region" and a "central pillar" of the arc of advantage and prosperity emerging in Asia.
"A new frontier or an arc has emerged. It is a growth region, more stable than ever, committed to universal values. South Asia indeed makes a central pillar of the arc," Aso said.
"Remember that 300 years ago, South Asia alone produced one fourth of the world output. What is unfolding is not a new rise but a great comeback of the region and the SAARC fully deserves the drama," Aso said.