Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda retreated Friday from the strong assurances given by Finance Minister Jun Azumi the day before that Tokyo would cut oil imports from Iran.
Noda said Azumi was expressing his “personal view” in supporting the U.S.’s attempt to isolate Iran over its nuclear program.
“Japan’s basic stance is to resolve such matters diplomatically and peacefully,” Noda said. “We need to consult with the business community, and we need to work out details with U.S. officials. We have to think about the implications for Japanese banks, and what measures are needed to resolve possible negative impact.”
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba doubted the efficacy of sanctioning Iran, saying the subsequent spike in oil prices would compensate for the deflated demand.
“What’s going to happen if oil prices surge is that sanctions will not be effective,” Gemba said. “The higher oil prices, the more affluent Iran becomes.”
Japan is Iran’s third largest oil importer, behind the E.U. and China. Nine percent of Japan’s oil comes from Iran. The United Arab Emirates, which currently supplies 20 percent of Japan’s oil, assured Gemba it would make up for the shortfall in oil supplies to Japan if Tokyo decides to cut off Iranian oil.
Japan is desperate for energy ever since the March 11 quake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Japan has since shut down the bulk of it 54 nuclear reactors due to popular distrust of the technology.
Any sanctions against Iran that don’t include an oil embargo would be purely symbolic and would do little to curb the Tehran regime. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner failed to get support for sanctions from China against Iran while in Beijing this week. Considering China imports 426,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, without Chinese cooperation, the West’s sanctions may be prove meaningless, even with Japanese support.