TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will urge Iran to ease international concerns over its nuclear ambitions in order to avert United Nations sanctions during a three-day visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Mottaki arrived in Tokyo on Monday, a day after news that Iran had reached a “basic” agreement with Russia on jointly enriching uranium.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who began talks with Mottaki on Monday, said he would press his counterpart for details of the deal, which did not make clear whether Tehran would suspend enrichment inside Iran.
“Iran has been carrying on secretly defying the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and losing international credibility. We need to have thorough talks,” Aso told parliament, referring to Tehran’s uranium enrichment-related activities.
With time running out for Iran to avoid formal referral to the U.N. Security Council at a March 6 board meeting of the IAEA, Japan hopes to persuade Iran — its third-largest oil supplier — to stop producing enriched uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies trying to develop nuclear arms, saying it is only seeking atomic energy to meet the demands of its growing economy.
Japan, which imports about 15 percent of its crude oil from Iran, or some 500,000 barrels a day, has kept up good ties with the Islamic Republic, and Japanese officials have said this gives Tokyo a unique role to play in defusing the tensions.
“I believe our nations’ cooperative consultations will continue,” Mottaki told Aso before their talks began.
An original Russian proposal had been for Iran’s uranium to be enriched in Russia to defuse suspicions that Iran might divert some nuclear fuel into a weapons programme.
But Iran has insisted on its right to enrich uranium it mines in its central desert on its own soil, and it was unclear how the original Russian proposal could be altered to satisfy Tehran.
At the March 6 meeting, the IAEA board will discuss the U.N. watchdog’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme which may determine whether the United States and European powers push the Security Council to impose sanctions.
The stand-off has posed a dilemma for Japan, which wants to stay in diplomatic sync with the United States, its main security ally, while also pursuing the development of an Iranian oil field seen by Tokyo as vital to its energy strategy.
Flying in the face of U.S. objections, Tokyo went ahead two years ago with a deal on a billion-dollar project to develop the Azadegan oil field in southern Iran, estimated to hold the world’s second-biggest single oil reserves.
The Japanese government has a 36 percent stake in Japan’s biggest oil developer, INPEX Corp., which plans to develop the southern part of Azadegan, estimated to hold 26 billion barrels of oil.
The Azadegan development is one of the biggest foreign investments in Iran, and Japanese media have estimated that the project may cost up to $1.7 billion.