The Japanese may have to count on Russia and the Middle East if United Nations sanctions on Iran halt its oil exports. 

Nippon Oil Chairman Fumiaki Watari lamented on Tuesday that sanctions appear inevitable against Iran, where Japan buys nearly 15 percent of its petroleum.

Watari says if the United Nations imposes sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programs his company likely will turn to Russia, and other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere to make up the shortfall.

It is possible that the United Nations Security Council will consider imposing sanctions on Iran, since the Tehran government says it will ignore last Thursday's deadline to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

Nippon Oil, Japan's biggest refiner, faces another problem in its dealings with Iran. Tehran has warned that it could seek another country to lead development of its Azadegan oil fields if Japan does not begin construction on the project soon. Tokyo has faced pressure from the United States not to proceed with the deal.

Watari acknowledged to reporters Tuesday that time is running out because Iran has set a September 15 deadline for its Japanese partner to finalize their 2004 agreement.

Watari says not only is China eyeing the undeveloped Iranian fields but France's Total oil company also has expressed interest in developing them. He says it is crucial for Japan to finalize a deal with Tehran for development of the Islamic Republic's largest onshore oil reserve.

Also Tuesday, Watari said his company has begun tapping Russia's rich energy resources. For the first time, Nippon Oil has purchased crude oil from Russia's Sakhalin region. The 700,000 barrels of oil are to arrive in Japan next month.

But greater cooperation between resource-rich Russia and import-dependent Japan has been blocked because of a decades-old territorial dispute.