Livni to visit Japan, discuss Iran ties

Tokyo doing more than some in Europe to put economic pressure on Teheran.

livni speaking 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni speaking 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Stopping Iran's nuclear march will be one of the major focuses of talks Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will have next week in Japan, one of the world's largest consumers of Iranian crude oil. Despite Japan's oil dependence - it imports 550,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day, or about 14 percent of its oil needs - diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that unlike some other countries in the region, such as China, Japan does not need to be persuaded to take action to stop Iran's nuclear march. The country, according to diplomatic officials, is looking for ways to diversify its oil supply. Currently Japan imports some 85 percent of its oil needs from the Middle East. Three leading Japanese banks decided in September to follow the US lead and refrain from doing business with Iran's state-run Bank Saderat. And in October, against the background of international tension over the Iranian nuclear program, Japan forfeited its controlling interest in Iran's massive Azadegan oil field, one of the world's largest with an estimated 26 billion barrels of reserves. These actions were applauded in Jerusalem, which is urging countries with heavy financial ties with Iran to take unilateral action independent of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran that were voted on last month. Israel would like to see South Korea follow suit. Korea consumes about 140,000 barrels of Iranian crude per day, and its I.G. Engineering Group signed a $1.6 billion contact with two Iranian firms for development in Iran's South Pars gas field. Livni will leave Sunday evening for a week-long Asian trip that will take her first to South Korea and then to Japan. According to diplomatic officials in Jerusalem, Japan was doing more in the realm of taking financial steps against Iran than most European countries. According to the official, one of the important aspects of last month's UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Iran was that it provided the legal and moral groundwork to take the kind of independent actions that Japan has taken. The US, the official said, was leading a campaign to encourage these types of steps outside of the UN framework. "There is a momentum to disinvest, disengage from Iran, and the US is out there in front on those issues," the official said. Israel's role, the official added, was to "urge the international community to maintain its integrity, so that if resolutions are passed, they are then implemented." The official said that the sanctions called for last month under UN Security Council Resolution 1737 have not yet been implemented and that the process may take some time since applying these sanctions will necessitate new legislation in some countries, and inter-agency cooperation in others. The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution ordering all countries to ban the supply of specified materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions also imposed an asset freeze on key companies and individuals in the country's nuclear and missile programs named on a UN list. The resolution called for Teheran to stop its uranium enrichment program or face a harsher set of sanctions in another 60 days. Diplomatic officials said that at this stage there was not yet concrete talk about what those harsher sanctions should entail. However, he said, "There is a general sense that preparations need to be done for the second resolution. It is important not to waste time. These sanctions should be passed quickly." Meanwhile, a number of ideas are being bandied about regarding possible unilateral sanctions that individual European countries could take against Iran, outside of the UN Framework. Among these ideas are the following:
  • Closing Iranian access to foreign capital markets.
  • Prohibiting authorities from providing insurance coverage for exports to Iran.
  • Stopping the honoring Iranian bank letters of credit and stopping providing letters of credit for companies making purchases in Iran.
  • Opposing Iranian accession to the World Trade Organization.
  • Stopping exporting of machinery and electrical components to Iran, 60% of which come from the EU.
  • Restricting the import of Iranian natural gas and oil.
  • Banning refined gasoline exports to Iran.
  • Completing the freeze of Iranian assets.
  • Banning the export of automobile spare parts to Iran.
  • Freezing foreign reserves in central banks.