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Will Asia Nix Iran Sanctions? (Page 4 of 4)

Iran though hasn’t been sitting idly by while all this is going on. Its government has been heavily lobbying South Korean officials not to apply additional sanctions, with the Iranian ambassador to Seoul quoted as telling the South Korean Joong Ang Ilbo that South Korea would only hurt itself by applying additional sanctions on its commerce with Iran.

‘Whoever is exerting or applying any sanction on Iran, first of all they are depriving themselves of good potential business opportunity…and the huge Iranian market that exists there and is open to everybody to enjoy the benefits of it,’ he said, adding that additional sanctions could threaten the ‘solid friendship’ between the two countries and could jeopardize 150,000 South Korean jobs and adversely affect some 2000 South Korean companies. 

Tugged from both sides, the South Korean government has sought to straddle the two. ‘Our efforts are aimed at maintaining a cooperative relationship with the US, while at the same time sustaining our good economic ties with Iran,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said.

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And what about Japan? On August 3, a day before the arrival of the Einhorn-Glaser team, the Japanese government prudently applied the new sanctions mandated under UNSCR 1929 to all Japanese dealings with Iran. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku also stated that the government, following further study, intended to announce additional unilateral measures against Iran later that month.

The following day, at a press conference at the US Embassy in Tokyo, Einhorn stated that the Obama administration wanted the Japanese government to send ‘strong, clear signals to Iran’ by adopting additional national sanctions against Tehran that exceeded the country’s minimal obligations under UNSCR 1929. He publicly appealed to Japanese officials to uphold their reputation ‘as a leader of the global non-proliferation regime and a close ally of the United States’ and ‘play a strong role in this effort.’ 

Japan is perhaps even more dependent on foreign energy sources than South Korea—it’s the largest oil importer in the world, with Iran supplying a large share of these imports. In 2007, the Japanese purchased $12.75 billion worth of oil from Iran, or about 12 percent of all the crude oil Japan imported that year.

In fact, Japan purchases little else from Iran aside from oil—in 2007, crude oil comprised 96 percent of all of Japan’s imports from Iran that year.  Yet, Japan also depends on its alliance with the United States for its defence, and the volume of commerce between Japan and the United States is considerably greater than that between Japan and Iran.

And, aside from the US consideration, the Japanese government is anyway strongly committed to nuclear non-proliferation and has criticized Iran’s failure to abide by UN Security Council decisions mandating a halt to its uranium enrichment programme. Meanwhile, the election of Yukiya Amano, a career Japanese diplomat, to succeed Mohamed Elbaradei as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency could make the Iranian nuclear issue more prominent in Japan.

In Tokyo, Einhorn said the US was asking Japan to take measures that ‘wouldn’t interfere in any way with Japan's energy security and its imports of oil from Iran,’ and he urged the Japanese to follow the example of the European Union, which recently adopted comprehensive sanctions to supplement those found in the latest Security Council resolution.

So will Japan fall in line? Again China looms large, with Japanese officials privately complaining to their US colleagues about the Chinese simply replacing any Japanese companies that disengage from the Iranian market.

With such concerns in mind, Einhorn and Glaser plan to visit China later this month to press Chinese officials directly on the sanctions issue. But, as was the case with US lobbying for support from China over the wars in Iraq in 1990 and 2003, China can be expected to drive a very hard bargain.

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