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Japan Wary Of Plan for Sanctions Against Iran

The Iranians appear to be running out of patience. Last week, Iran's oil minister reiterated on national television a threat to cancel the contract. "If the Japanese do not develop Azadegan, we will not tolerate any more delay and will hand over the job to our own engineers," Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said.

Since Inpex struck the Azadegan deal with Iran in 2004, Bush administration officials have sniped at it repeatedly. Japanese officials characterize this as a rare cold patch in otherwise very warm U.S.-Japan relations.

The Japanese call the project essential to securing increasingly rare dedicated energy sources for the world's second-largest economy. U.S. officials insist it would only make Japan more dependent on Iran. "I ask Japan not to be pressed into a dilemma on the nuclear proliferation issue by Iran, which is using oil resources as its shield," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, said in a March interview with Japan's Nihon Keizai newspaper.

Japanese pundits are increasingly citing "U.S. pressure" on Japan over Iran. Earlier this month, President Bush placed a call to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, urging his friend to support a consensus that Iran must open its nuclear program to international security.

Japan is smarting about being largely left out of negotiations with Iran even while it is being asked to make the largest potential sacrifice. A new proposal -- including incentives for Iran to open its nuclear program that have somewhat brightened the prospects for a negotiated settlement -- was presented to Tehran this month by a club of nations comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

As a country whose armed forces are restricted by a postwar pacifist constitution and which is protected by the American nuclear umbrella, Japan often finds that its interests naturally coincide with Washington's. But there is a growing sentiment in Japan that, particularly in the Iranian situation, Tokyo and Washington have divergent interests and that Japan's support for U.S. policy is being taken for granted.

"I think we should stand with the international community once a consensus is made on the Iran nuclear issue," said Hideki Wakabayashi, a member of Japan's upper house who was part of a delegation to Iran last month from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. "But it's not a good idea for the Bush administration to pressure Japan before negotiations fail."

Linzer reported from Washington.

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