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Iranian FM in Japan for nuclear crisis talks

The talks are expected to focus in part on the ongoing negotiations between Tehran and Moscow.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2006 09:48 IST

Japan, a major oil importer friendly to both Iran and the United States, was set on Monday to try to persuade the Islamic republic to resolve the nuclear crisis during a visit by its foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Tokyo on a three-day visit as part of a global tour that comes amid last-ditch efforts by Iran to avoid punishment by the United Nations Security Council.

Mottaki, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1995 to 1999, was due to hold talks on Monday evening with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso and meet briefly with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, officials said.

The talks are expected to focus in part on the ongoing negotiations between Tehran and Moscow on a compromise plan under which sensitive uranium enrichment work would take place outside Iran.

The Russian plan, heralded by Japan's Aso as a "constructive approach," would ease Western suspicions that Iran wants to enrich uranium to build nuclear weapons rather than to generate electricity.

It could also delay potential sanctions. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is due to present a report on Iran's nuclear program later Monday that could lead to Security Council action.

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.

The world's second-largest economy imports nearly all of its oil needs, with 15 percent coming from Iran.

Japan in 2004 inked a $2 billion contract to develop Azadegan in southwestern Iran, considered one of the biggest untapped oil reserves in the world.

Mottaki, in an interview with Japanese journalists ahead of his visit, said that the Azadegan project was not in danger despite Japan's vote at the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council.

"Japan's dependence on Iran for oil is high," Aso said earlier this month. "It is a great matter of interest for Japan to prevent trouble there."

"It is very important for Japan's national interests and stability in the Middle East that Iran makes efforts to avoid friction with the international community over the issue of its nuclear development," Aso said.

Japan has increasingly been competing over scarce energy resources with China -- which dispatched its vice foreign minister to Tehran for weekend talks on the crisis.

The Asian powers are at odds over gas and oil reserves in disputed waters in the East China Sea and over a pipeline to be built in Siberia.

"In the long run, Japan needs to diversify its sources of crude oil importers in an effort to lower its heavy reliance on the Middle East," said Koichiro Tanaka, an Iran expert at Japan's Institute of Energy Economics.

"Crude oil from Far Eastern Russia is a realistic option, but Japan has so far failed to secure it," he said.

It is Mottaki's first visit to Japan since he was appointed foreign minister in August after the election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

First Published: Feb 27, 2006 09:48 IST