Japan's government has backed away from comments by its finance minister about reducing oil imports from Iran in support of U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed reluctance to make any quick decision on cutting oil imports from Iran.
Speaking to reporters Friday evening in Tokyo, Noda said comments the previous day by his finance minister, Jun Azumi, were a personal opinion, not government policy.
The prime minister said Japan has yet to make a decision about what to do and needs first to consult with the country's business community.
Azumi, standing alongside the visiting U.S. treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, the previous day, said Japan would start reducing Iranian crude oil imports as soon as possible.
But on Friday, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba at a news conference in Tokyo with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, called for the need “to respond carefully and wisely.” Gemba openly speculated the sanctions could cause oil prices to surge, making Iran more affluent.
The United States and Europe are leading an effort to block Iran's sales of crude oil, its main export, in an attempt to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.
Iran is the source of about 10 percent of crude oil acquired from abroad by both Japan and South Korea.
The two countries have few natural resources and are dependent on imports to meet the needs of their large and highly developed economies.
South Korea also says it has yet to make any decision about cutting crude oil imports from the Islamic republic. Officials say the matter will be discussed next week with an American team led by Robert Einhorn, the State Department's point man on the Iranian sanctions.
Under harsher restrictions enacted by Washington, foreign firms continuing to deal with Iran, including its central bank, would face a cutoff of business with the United States.