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Japan says stable energy supplies key as Iran sanctions loom

Tokyo — Japan has told the US that its stable energy supplies must not get disrupted when Washington's sanctions on Iran comes into effect, the country's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said Tuesday.

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Seko, referring to the talks between the two countries during August 1-2 in Washington, added that Tokyo had also highlighted to the US during the discussions that the return of sanctions must not affect corporate activity.

"The Japanese side insisted on the basic principle that [the US sanctions] should not affect energy supply or have a negative impact on Japanese corporate activities," Seko told a news conference in Tokyo.

Seko said both sides had held talks on Washington's decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran but declined to provide details and the specific points that were discussed. "We hope to hold further discussions tenaciously," he said.

His comments followed remarks from the METI director-general of oil, gas and mineral resources, Ryo Minami, who said in a recent interview with S&P Global Platts that Japan was seeking an early exemption from the US on its sanctions against Iran to ensure energy security as well as local refiners' needs for Iranian oil.

Minami added that Japan was considering continuing to import Iranian crude and that the government would convey this position to the US and seek understanding about the Japanese position. Minami also said Japan should be exempt from the US sanctions because country had reduced Iranian oil imports in recent years.

US DISCUSSES LIMITED WAIVERS

The US government, meanwhile, still aims to slash Iran's oil exports when sanctions resume in November, but diplomats continue to discuss limited waivers for importing countries, a senior administration official said Monday.

US sanctions on Iran's oil customers snap back November 4 and could remove up to 1 million b/d of global oil supply.

"Our goal is to get the import of Iranian oil to zero," the administration official said on condition of anonymity during a briefing with reporters. "We are not looking to grant exemptions or waivers but are glad to discuss requests and look at requests on a case-by-case basis."

The official declined to say whether any limited waivers had already been granted.

"We don't disclose private deliberation with other governments over these things," he said.

Following the talks with Japanese government officials in Washington, a State Department official said Thursday: "We remain focused working with all purchasers of Iranian crude to end those purchases as quickly as possible."

Japan's oil imports from Iran surged in May and June as refiners rushed to secure as many cargoes as possible before US sanctions go back into force. This helped to cut Japan's year-to-date decrease in Iranian oil imports to just 3% from a year earlier, compared with a cumulative 13% drop in the January-April period.

Over January-June, Japan imported an average of 162,222 b/d of Iranian oil, accounting for 5.3% of total crude imports, down 2.7% from a year ago, compared with 153,074 b/d imported over January-April, when Iranian supplies accounted for 5.0% of the total supply, down 13.1% year on year, according to METI data.

--Takeo Kumagai, takeo.kumagai@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Fox, jonathan.fox@spglobal.com