China, the biggest buyer of Iran’s oil, has publicly rejected US sanctions aimed at Tehran’s energy industry while American allies Japan and South Korea are scrambling to find a compromise to keep critical supplies flowing.
Beijing is buying less Iranian crude this month but analysts say China is unlikely to support an oil embargo. Instead, they say, the smaller purchases might be a tactic aimed at obtaining lower prices as the West squeezes Tehran.
The sanctions approved by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve have higlighted the importance of Iranian oil supplies to East Asia’s energy-hungry economies. They have led to a clash of interests between Washington and key commercial and strategic partners over efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
“We are considering our response and are closely discussing the matter with the US,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, Kazuhiro Kawase, said Friday.
A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said this week Seoul is in talks with Washington aimed at “minimizing the negative impacts” of sanctions. South Korea imports 97% of its oil and depends on Iran for up to 10% of its supplies.
China’s foreign ministry rejected the sanctions this week and called for negotiations, leaving unclear whether Beijing might defy Washington, straining relations between the world’s biggest and second-biggest economies.
“Sanctioning is not the correct approach to easing tensions,” said a ministry spokesman, Hong Lei. “China opposes the placing of one’s domestic law above international law and imposing unilateral sanctions on other countries.”
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is due to visit Beijing and Tokyo next week for talks that officials say will include the sanctions.