WASHINGTON — The U.S. administration is urging Japan and other allies to suspend all oil imports from Iran by Nov. 4 as part of coordinated sanctions on the Islamic republic, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.
“We are asking them to go to zero,” the official said in a news briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re going to isolate streams of Iranian funding and looking to highlight the totality of Iran’s malign behavior across the region.”
The official also said he will request that China and India, other major oil consumers, halt oil imports from Iran, and warned that Chinese and Indian companies will be subject to similar sanctions if they continue to do business with Iran beyond Nov. 4.
Asked if any waivers are expected to be permitted in the process, the official said the position of the administration is that no exemptions will be allowed.
The request was apparently made to Japan during a recent bilateral meeting in Tokyo where senior government officials discussed Washington’s revived sanctions on Tehran in the wake of the U.S. pullout from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May.
Crude oil from Iran accounts for about 5 percent of Japan’s total oil imports, according the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Nearly 90 percent of crude oil imports into resource-poor Japan come from countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and diversifying its suppliers remains a challenge.
Referring to Japan’s response to the U.S. request, the State Department official said, “This is a challenge for them” because “we’re asking them to make a policy change.”
The official, however, said Washington expects Tokyo to cooperate “because of their relationship with us.”
The official pointed to the fact that Japan has “a reasonably low level of oil imports” from Iran.
In Tokyo on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government is consulting with relevant countries including the United States on ways to avert any potential negative impact on Japanese companies.
While the top government spokesman declined to elaborate, he said Japan is also discussing the U.S. sanctions with Iran.
Tokyo, which maintains friendly ties with Tehran, is also seeking to have itself exempted from taking such action or to have the Nov. 4 deadline delayed, government sources said.
The United States will engage with Middle Eastern partners in a week or so to ensure that the global oil supply will not be adversely affected by the U.S.-led action against Iran.
On May 8, Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal as he pledged to reinstate U.S. sanctions on Tehran. He also advocated “the highest level of economic sanction” against a regime he called “the leading state sponsor of terror.”
Under the deal struck between Iran and six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.