TOKYO (AFP) -Senior US officials have urged Japan to halt development of a massive oil field with Iran amid concern that revenue from the project could fuel the Islamic state’s nuclear drive, a report said.
Washington had asked its close ally, which is heavily reliant on Middle Eastern oil, at least to halt the two-billion-dollar Azadegan project, the Sankei Shimbun said, quoting anonymous sources close to the US government.
The demands were made informally by US officials including Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and undersecretary of state for arms control Robert Joseph, the conservative daily said.
The US embassy told AFP Japan was aware of US opposition to investment in Iran but declined to comment on whether Washington has pressured Tokyo to stop the Azadegan project.
“We have discussed our views on this and related matters and Japan knows our position on this matter,” a US embassy spokesman said.
But a Japanese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Japan “is holding no concrete talks with the United States” on the future of the project.
“The Azadegan oil development is a very important project for us in terms of stable energy supply. We will cope with the matter squarely as nuclear non-proliferation and stable supply of crude oil are both important,” she said.
Japan has walked a tightrope on the Iranian crisis, supporting US and European calls for Tehran to give up its nuclear program while trying not to jeopardize its close commercial ties with the Islamic regime.
Japan defied the United States in 2004 by signing the contract to develop Azadegan, considered one of the world’s biggest untapped oil reserves.
During a visit to Japan this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Japan’s stance on the Iranian nuclear issue would not affect the major oil investment.
But Japan’s largest oil refiner, Nippon Oil, last week said it would cut imports from Iran by 15 percent this year, in what was seen as a precaution in case the nuclear standoff escalates and puts the oil industry at risk.