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US asks Japan to stop Iran oil development -report

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Mar 23 (Reuters) The United States has informally asked Japan to suspend its plans to develop an Iranian oil field as part of world efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a Japanese newspaper said today.

Resource-poor Japan has been planning to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, estimated to hold the world's second-biggest single oil reserve, despite objections from Washington.

According to US government sources quoted by the daily Sankei Shimbun, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph have informally asked Japan to at least temporarily suspend its plans to develop the Azadegan field.

The request was based on the belief that developing the field would provide income for Iran that could support its nuclear activities, as well as make it hard for the international community to present a united front in dealing with Iran, the Sankei said.

It added there was a movement within the US Congress to make a similar request.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman had no comment on the report.

The United Nations Security Council, which can impose sanctions, has so far failed to reach accord on a statement calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Both Russia and China have balked at approving a draft statement, fearing that threats might escalate and prompt Iran to cut off all contact with the UN's nuclear watchdog agency.

Earlier this month, John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, urged Japan to work with Washington, saying that he understood Japan's difficult energy situation but that the global community had to work together to combat nuclear proliferation.

Japan imports about 15 percent of its crude oil from Iran, its third-largest oil supplier, and has maintained healthy relations with Iran even at the expense of upsetting Washington.

Japan 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 INPEX Corp. , Japan's biggest oil developer, which plans to develop the southern part of Azadegan, estimated to hold 26 billion barrels of oil.

Reuters DH VP0630

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