Japan ‘Considering’ Cutback on Iranian Oil: Foreign Minister

Posted January 13th, 2012 at 5:15 am (UTC-5)
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Japan's foreign minister on Friday said Tokyo has not yet decided on whether to cut Iranian oil imports in support of U.S. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program.

“It requires wise and thoughtful considerations, so the Japanese government will deliberate on this issue before we reach the final conclusion.”

Koichiro Gemba's comments seemed to contradict those of Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who said a day earlier that Japan would take “concrete steps” to reduce the amount of oil it imports from Iran.

Japan is hoping to avoid recently enacted U.S. sanctions that bar foreign banks that do business with Iran's Central Bank – its main clearinghouse for oil – from U.S. financial markets.

But Gemba expressed concern that the tough U.S. sanctions may lead to higher oil prices, which he says would only benefit Iran.

“The sanctions would not effectively restrict Iran if the crude oil prices rise in consequence of the sanction. Iran will be more affluent with funds if the crude oil price rises.”

Gemba was speaking at a press conference in Tokyo with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who said the world would be making a “grave error” to ignore the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, which many suspect is aimed at producing weapons.

Juppe said he did not believe that the financial measures against Iran would impact oil prices.

“I think that there are possibilities for some oil producing countries to make up for what Iran couldn't put on the market, so I don't believe the impact on price would be as significant as some might fear.”

Many Western governments are hoping that other oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, could make up the difference for the reduced Iranian oil output.

The contradictory comments by the Japanese foreign and finance ministers seemed to reveal a government divide on the U.S. sanctions. But Finance Minister Azumi said later Friday that “there is no discrepancy in the government's stance” on the issue.

Japan has reduced its consumption of Iranian oil in the past five years, but it still makes up a tenth of its oil imports. Many in the resource-poor country fear the sanctions would trigger higher oil prices and harm an already fragile economy that is recovering from last year's tsunami and nuclear power disaster.

Azumi's comments on Thursday came as he was meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is in the beginning stages of an effort to lobby for international support for the sanctions against Iran.

Iran denies that its nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, insisting that it is for producing electricity and medical isotopes to treat cancer patients.