Iranian oil imports to be cut to aid U.S. pressure: Azumi

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Japan is ready to reduce crude oil imports from Iran to help Washington put pressure on Tehran to give up its nuclear program, Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Thursday in Tokyo.

Speaking at a joint news conference after a one-hour meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Azumi said Japan will further reduce its reliance on Iran, the source of approximately 10 percent of its crude oil supply.

Iran’s disputed nuclear program “is a global concern,” Azumi said, adding Japan “understands the actions taken by the United States.”

“We will take measures that will reduce imports (from Iran) in a planned manner,” he said.

Geithner, who was in Beijing before arriving in Tokyo on Thursday, also asked China’s leaders to consider cutting oil imports from Iran, which is defying the global community by enriching uranium beyond the point needed for power generation and close to that needed to make weapons. But Beijing reportedly refused to cooperate with Washington.

Japan and the U.S. “will work closely to substantially increase pressure on Iran,” Geithner said at the news conference while welcoming Tokyo’s support.

Japanese officials and some industry executives have voiced worries about the strong stance Washington is taking against Iran, which may grow to include sanctions against financial institutions that conduct transactions with Iran’s central bank to buy oil.

They also point to the additional risks Japan faces in cutting ties with such a valuable energy source at a time when most of its nuclear plants are sitting idle because of the March 11 disasters.

Touching on such concerns, Azumi also revealed in the news conference that he asked his U.S. counterpart to “take Japan’s situation into consideration,” especially in fields unrelated to oil.

Geithner said that the U.S. and its allies are “in the early stages” of consulting how to cut off Iran from the global financial system.

Following his meeting with Azumi, Geithner met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and exchanged opinions on sanctions against Iran. Noda expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear program but also noted that expanding sanctions may have a negative impact on the global economy, a prime minister’s office statement said.

Regarding Europe’s sovereign debt issues, both Azumi and Geithner said the EU must prevent the crisis from spreading by building a strong “firewall.”