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US wants Japan cooperation on Iran despite oil-Kyodo

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, March 2 (Reuters) US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has urged Japan to work with Washington to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, despite Tokyo's plans to develop an Iranian oil field, Kyodo news agency said.

Bolton was speaking in an interview in New York yesterday, Kyodo said.

Resource-poor Japan has been planning to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, estimated to hold the world's second-biggest single oil reserves, but progress has been stymied partly by international concerns over Tehran's nuclear programme.

''I hope Japan will follow through on the policies it's articulated in order to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,'' Bolton told Kyodo.

''And I hope that there's a way to work around the energy question, but it may be awkward for Japan. We understand that, but we think it's important to stick together on the nonproliferation,'' he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report on Monday that Iran was pursuing a nuclear fuel enrichment programme and obstructing UN probes spurred by suspicions that Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Iran says it wants to build nuclear reactors to meet increasing electricity demand, but critics say that the enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Iran and Russia yesterday failed to agree on Moscow's proposal to carry out uranium enrichment for Iran on Russian soil. It had been seen as a compromise to break the deadlock over the nuclear programme.

Bolton said Iran was using its position as a major oil exporter as leverage in talks with other nations.

''Iran has used its oil and natural gas as a weapon, and used it very skilfully with a variety of countries,'' he told Kyodo.

During a visit to Tokyo this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his nation would continue to play a vital role as Tokyo's third-largest oil supplier and warned Washington not to interfere in the Azadegan project.

''Azadegan ... is one of the greatest projects and a symbol of our bilateral relations,'' Mottaki said in a speech yesterday.

''We would not like to let a third party interfere negatively on our good bilateral relations.'' Japan imports about 15 percent of its crude oil from Iran, some 500,000 barrels a day, and has maintained healthy relations with Tehran, even at the expense of upsetting Washington.

Despite US objections, Tokyo sealed a deal with Iran two years ago on a billion-dollar project to develop Azadegan.

The Japanese government has a 36 percent stake in Japan's biggest oil developer, INPEX Corp., which plans to develop the southern part of Azadegan, estimated to hold 26 billion barrels of oil.

Reuters KD GC1027

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