Worried about being left out of investment bonanza, Japan eyes sending foreign minister to Iran

Kyodo, JIJI

The government is making arrangements to send Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Iran in late October at the earliest to set up a bilateral committee to deal with energy and infrastructure development and other economic issues, government sources said Friday.

The same day, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said Japan and Iran will begin three-day negotiations from Monday in Tehran to conclude a bilateral investment treaty, a move aimed at tapping into the commercial potential of the Iranian market for Japanese firms.

The moves by Japan come as the government plans to keep in step with the United States and Europe in lifting economic sanctions on Iran after an accord to diplomatically resolve Tehran’s nuclear program was reached in July, officials said.

Japan is hoping that such measures would make it easier for more domestic firms to operate in oil-rich Iran, with a population of around 78 million, and eventually lead to increased auto exports and participation in Iranian oil field development, the officials added.

“Iran has natural resources. We would like to take appropriate measures so as not to lag behind other countries,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

The government is sending Kishida to meet with his counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in hopes of setting up a joint committee at the director general level to discuss issues including finance, infrastructure-building and development of natural resources and energy, the sources said.

Iran, eager to expand investment from Japanese firms to rebuild its tattered economy, has also expressed its willingness to launch such a committee, the sources said.

Under the historic deal reached between Iran and six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — the sanctions will be lifted in stages in return for Iran agreeing to long-term reductions of its nuclear program.

With sanctions on Iran expected to be lifted within this year at the earliest, foreign competition for market access to the country is expected to intensify.

Resource-poor Japan is seeking to secure stable supplies of crude oil and natural gas from Iran.

In negotiations from next week, Japan will be represented by Masaaki Kanai, director of the Second Middle East Division of the ministry’s Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau, while Ahmad Jamali, director general of the Foreign Investment Office at the Organization for Investment, Economic and Technical Assistance of Iran, will lead Iran’s delegation, the ministry said.

Iran has so far concluded bilateral investment pacts with China, France and Germany, the ministry said, citing U.N. data as of August.

The government also plans to send Kentaro Sonoura, parliamentary vice foreign minister, later this month to speed up negotiations on the investment pact and work out details of the joint committee, ministry officials said.

Following the deal in July, Daishiro Yamagiwa, senior vice minister for economy, trade and industry, visited Iran in early August and held talks with officials including Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering making visits to five Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — in late October to secure stable natural resources supplies for Japan at a time when China is increasing wielding its influence in the resource-rich region, another source said.