'No uncertainty on Iranian oil imports policy'

Japanese finance minister says Tokyo's economy, financial system would suffer shock without waivers from such sanctions.

By REUTERS
January 13, 2012 11:56
2 minute read.
US Tresury Secretary meets Japan Finance Minister.

Japan Finance Minister Jun Azumi with timothy geithner 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

TOKYO - Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said on Friday there was no confusion over the government's policy of reducing Iranian oil imports in support of US sanctions, although earlier comments from the cabinet's top spokesman suggested Japan was not committed to taking such steps.

Separately, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, that sanctions against Iran should be carried out in a way that would not drive up oil prices, and that channels of dialogue should be kept open.

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US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travelled to China and Japan this week, seeking cooperation on stricter sanctions as the US tries to choke off oil revenue to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Buying less Iranian oil is sensitive for Japan because its reliance on energy imports has jumped after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. But unless it does so, it will not win an exemption for Japanese banks from sanctions that would freeze financial institutions out of US markets for facilitating trade in Iranian crude.

On Thursday, the Japanese finance minister said in a joint news conference with Geithner that Japan would take concrete steps to reduce oil imports from Iran. But a few hours later, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said importing less Iranian oil was only one of many opinions on how to deal with the matter.

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"There is no discrepancy in the government's stance," Azumi told reporters on Friday after a cabinet meeting.

"Japan's economy and financial system would suffer a shock without waivers from these sanctions. Our foreign minister has been travelling to the Middle East to help foster an environment that will allow us to reduce oil imports from Iran," he added.

Iranian crude makes up 10 percent of Japan's overall oil imports and some in Japan are concerned the new sanctions could drive up oil prices, dealing a blow to its economy, which is recovering from last year's earthquake and nuclear power disaster.

Gemba said in a joint news conference with Juppe that sanctions would be ineffective if they end up boosting oil prices, a negative development for the global economy, but a boon for oil producing Iran.

"The higher oil prices go, the better it gets for Iran ... We need to take steps in a careful, smart way," he said.

Juppe, however, said he does not fully share Gemba's concerns, saying that when there was a similar situation with Libya, there was not much of an increase in oil prices and that there were other countries to turn to for oil.

Iran denies Western suspicions that its nuclear program has military goals, saying it is for purely peaceful purposes.


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