TOKYO - Japan will likely avoid US sanctions against Iran as it is continuing to reduce imports of Iranian oil, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said on Wednesday.

The sanctions, aimed at pressuring Tehran to prevent its nuclear program being used to make weapons, will punish financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, the channel for oil transactions.

A breach of the sanctions could result in companies being shut out of the US market, which could prevent Japan's biggest banks from operating in the world's largest economy.

Japan has been in talks with Washington to obtain a waiver, which can be granted if there is a significant cut in trade with Iran. Tokyo had already cut its oil imports from Iran by 40 percent over the past five years, and is offering to make further cuts.

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