Iran sanctions waiver welcomed by Tokyo

Kyodo

Japan welcomed Wednesday the U.S. plan to exempt Japanese banks from being affected by new financial sanctions against Iran, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday.

His remark came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that Washington plans to exempt financial institutions based in Japan and 10 European countries from a new set of financial sanctions against Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Clinton also praised past efforts by the countries to reduce Iranian oil imports.

Fujimura said in a news conference that Japan has reduced imports by some 40 percent over the last five years and has been telling the United States that this trend will continue.

With this in mind, Fujimura said, the government has been asking for an exemption for Japanese financial institutions involved in oil transactions.

“Our country, sharing the concern of the United States and members of the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue, is working with the global community in dealing with Iran based on the approach of dialogue and pressure,” he said.

Finance Minister Jun Azumi said separately that Japan may keep cutting Iranian oil imports in a measured manner.

The U.S. plan apparently took into consideration not only Japan’s past reduction of oil imports from Iran but also Tokyo’s actions in the future, Azumi said.

“I believe we are in a direction toward further reducing crude oil imports (from Iran)” to a certain extent, he said.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said in a separate news conference that Japan’s oil imports from Iran will “not immediately be cut to zero.”

Japan is a major purchaser of Iranian oil, which currently accounts for nearly 10 percent of its crude imports.

Banks pleased

Japanese banks said Wednesday they were gratified that the United States has decided to exempt Japan and 10 European countries from new financial sanctions against Iran.

In the absence of the exemption, Japanese banks that have dealings with the Iranian central bank would have run into major difficulties because they would have become unable to do business with American banks.

The exemption was granted because the United States appreciates Japan’s efforts to cut back oil purchases from Iran, an official with a major bank said.

Other bank managers said, however, that they will continue to monitor the situation closely because the United States says its decision on the exemption will be reviewed in 180 days and also because the European Union is ratcheting up its economic sanctions on Iran.

Japanese oil wholesalers are wary because they could come under increased international pressure to reduce oil imports from Iran.

“At the moment, we have no means that would enable us to comment on this issue. We will gather relevant information through the Japanese government,” an official with Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K. said.