News / USA

Japan Pledges to Reduce Iran Oil Imports

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Jun Azumi prior to their meeting in Tokyo,  January 12, 2012.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Jun Azumi prior to their meeting in Tokyo, January 12, 2012.

Japan and South Korea are among the countries contemplating requests from the United States to reduce or cut ties with Iran's banking and energy sectors. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received a partial commitment Thursday in Tokyo from his Japanese counterpart.  Meanwhile, South Korea is still undecided on how far to go. 

Treasury Secretary Geithner is praising Japan, which he calls a "vital security and economic ally" for standing with Washington and the international community to support a "very important strategic objective."

The United States is pressing other countries to support sanctions against Iran for its nuclear development.

Geithner says the United States is exploring ways to cut off Iran's central bank from the international financial system and to reduce the earnings Iran derives from its oil exports. "We are in the early stages, just the initial stages, of consulting with our allies both in Europe, Japan and around the world on how best to achieve those objectives," he said.

Standing alongside Geithner in Tokyo, Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi expressed understanding for Washington's stance.

Azumi says, in the past five years, his country has already significantly reduced the amount of oil it imports from Iran. He adds that Japan will take specific steps to further cut oil purchases from Iran, which now stand at 10 percent of Japan's total imports. But he did not cite a specific amount or timeline.

The finance minister says Japan, which also buys natural gas from Iran, is also working to cut non-oil imports.

Japan's largest circulation daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, says Tokyo, in exchange for telling oil importers to change suppliers, will ask Washington to exempt from sanctions Japanese financial institutions dealing with the Iranian central bank.

The bank processes most of the revenues for Iran's oil exports.

Officials at South Korea's Ministry of Strategy and Finance tell VOA no decision has yet been made for this year's level of oil imports from Iran.

South Korea, similar to Japan with few natural resources, also imports about ten percent of its crude oil from Iran.

Last month, South Korea announced it would expand sanctions against the Islamic republic and discourage domestic companies from importing petrochemicals from Iran. But that action did not deal with crude oil shipments.

Analysts say Seoul is moving cautiously because new, more expensive, oil import contracts would need to be signed with other countries and that will take time. Officials here also express concern the shift away from Iranian oil will raise consumer prices and hamper efforts to control inflation in South Korea.

Foreign firms continuing to deal with Iran would face a cutoff of business with the United States.

The United States and other countries want Iran to halt uranium enrichment. They fear Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian government insists its nuclear program is peaceful and intended to increase electricity generation and make medical radioisotopes for cancer treatment.

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