• Kyodo

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Japan has told Russia it wants to take part in the development of oil fields in eastern Siberia through funding and other means, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry, sent letters spelling out Japan’s position to Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and German Gref, the economic development and trade minister, in December, the sources said.

A team led by officials of Japan National Oil Corp. is discussing cooperation in the development plans with the two Russian ministries and Russian oil companies, they said.

According to the sources, Russia welcomes Japan’s willingness to cooperate in developing the eastern Siberian oil fields because there are concerns that western Siberia, which accounts for 70 percent of its oil output, has depleted reserves and aging equipment.

They said Japan hopes to start joint research in eastern Siberia in 2004 to estimate the amount of oil deposits and gather other information after the most promising areas are identified.

Experts say Russia needs financial assistance from Japan and other parties to construct roads and other infrastructure in eastern Siberia to develop oil fields.

Japan is currently holding talks with Yukos Oil Co., a Moscow-based major oil and gas company, and other Russian firms that have oil concession rights in eastern Siberia, they said.

Japan is also holdings talks with the Russian government over legal issues in connection with the implementation of the development program.

Specific areas for development will be decided after joint research is completed on reserves, but an area stretching between the Irkutsk Region and the Sakha Republics is widely regarded as a strong candidate, according to the sources.

Japan currently gets about 90 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East.

Japan also wants to reduce its heavy dependence on the Middle East in view of the growing tensions surrounding Iraq.

China has begun similar drives to develop eastern Siberia, prompting Japan to take swifter action.

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