Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Japan Opposes Sanctions On Iran

The government of Japan may soon be forced to choose between the economic well-being of their people and their long-standing political backing of U.S. foreign policy goals.

Despite months of pressure from Washington, Japan has become increasingly reluctant to join a Bush administration plan for sanctions against Iran if negotiations fail to resolve concerns over the country's nuclear program, Japanese and U.S. officials said Monday.

Japanese officials are suggesting that their country, which has more at stake in Iran financially than any other potential sanctions partner, may not join in punitive measures unless there is a broad international consensus along the lines of a U.N. Security Council resolution or other measure backed by nations now reluctant to impose sanctions, such as China. The White House had hoped instead to bring Japan into a "coalition of the willing" that avoided dealing with "recalcitrants" such as Russia and China.

The administration's fallback plan if talks with Iran fail -- tough financial measures imposed by a small group of like-minded countries -- depends strongly on Japanese participation. Without it, administration officials have calculated, the impact would significantly decrease.

Japan consumes 22 percent of Iranian oil exports and is slated to begin development this year of the largest and most modern onshore petroleum fields built in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. That has caused Japan to experience an uncomfortable tug of war between its allegiance to Washington and its financial and energy interests in Iran.

Analysts and Western diplomats have called the Bush administration's bid to sway Japan -- by far Iran's largest trading partner -- a key test of the likelihood that U.S. allies will ultimately agree to make painful sacrifices to force Tehran into compliance...

Initial sanctions under consideration against Iran would largely spare the global trade in Iranian crude oil. But the most severe sanctions -- including cutting Tehran off from access to the dollar, euro, British pound and yen -- would be a step "potentially imperiling European and Japanese trade, including the oil trade," according to a Treasury Department task force report on the measures' likely international impact.

Geopolitical considerations will play an important role in Japan's decision:

Japanese officials have said that while they have deep concerns about Iran's nuclear program, they worry that aggressive sanctions could create a foothold for China. Viewed by Japan as its prime competitor in the global energy market, China ranks just behind Japan in consumption of Iranian oil.

Iranian officials have already threatened to nullify a massive contract signed with Tokyo-based Inpex, an energy giant that is partly owned by the Japanese government, for development of the Azadegan petroleum fields along Iran's long and treacherous border with Iraq.

Inpex has so far postponed full-scale development work, citing a dispute over the number of land mines to be cleared from a drilling area that is estimated to contain reserves of about 26 billion barrels of oil. But sources familiar with the project have also described the delay as an effort by Japan to buy time -- to ensure that progress is made in the nuclear standoff before the Japanese company pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.

The Iranians appear to be running out of patience. Last week, Iran's oil minister reiterated on national television a threat to cancel the contract. "If the Japanese do not develop Azadegan, we will not tolerate any more delay and will hand over the job to our own engineers," Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said.

Since Inpex struck the Azadegan deal with Iran in 2004, Bush administration officials have sniped at it repeatedly. Japanese officials characterize this as a rare cold patch in otherwise very warm U.S.-Japan relations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a very interesting post...

With the world being as interconnected as it is -- how difficult it is for the U.S. to play its usual card: If you don't play the way we want you to we'll make sure you can't play with anyone. -- That's a threat that would become increasingly hollow if only countries such as Japan (and Canada) recognized their own power and searched for other trading partners, etc... Sure, it might mean some short-term pain -- but in the long run the "freedom" would be worth it.

-- My thinking is that economic self-interest usually trumps everything for countries around the world and Japan will do what it can to do business with the Iraninans -- the question is whether they will do it overtly or covertly.


6/13/2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Good point that Japan may say one thing and (covertly) do another.

Something tells me that this would be more or less acceptable to the U.S.

It would permit Washington to save face (if that matters anymore). At least domestically.

6/13/2006 11:40 AM  
Blogger DrewL said...

It's one thing to join a coalition of the willing when legitimate threats are at stake - or at least when they are made to appear as such. But it's another thing entirely when a nation is expected to cut its own economic throat in support of dubious claims. Much of the world was duped by the U.S. on Iraq. Why should they make the same mistake twice and injure their own economic situation at the same time? Shame on them.

One would think that Japan learned a valuable lesson the last time around. They are smart enough not to be played the fool again.

6/13/2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


As you know, the rest of the world is not as enamoured with U.S. dumbshittery as are some of the American people.

Fewer and fewer nations are willing to blindly go where even angels fear to tread.

Japan is probably too smart to go for this.

It looks like we are finally down to only having Blair's Great Britain when we need made-to-order subservience.

6/14/2006 10:23 AM  

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