2012/01/08

Japan foreign minister holds energy talks in Saudi

RIYADH, January  8, 2012 (AFP) - Japan's foreign minister met top Saudi officials on Sunday as part of a regional tour to discuss potential sanctions on Iranian oil exports and their effects on resource-poor Japan.

In talks with the Saudi oil and defence ministers, Koichiro Gemba discussed "the latest regional and international developments ... and bilateral oil and energy cooperation," said a statement from the official SPA news agency.

Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, deputy spokesman for Japan's foreign ministry Masaru Sato said the talks included Iran's nuclear ambitions and Saudi oil supplies.

According to the spokesman, Saudi Arabia supplies 30 percent of Japan's oil imports, with another 20 percent coming from the United Arab Emirates, 10 percent from Qatar and nine percent from Iran.

Pressure from Washington and the European Union to boycott Iranian crude comes at a time when Japan must make greater use of thermal power plants after a massive earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear power crisis last March.

The vast bulk of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors are now shut down, amid public distrust of the technology and increased safety calls.

Speaking at a Friday news conference, Japan's industry minister Yukio Edano said the world's third biggest economy was preparing for a potential Iranian oil embargo "by taking every possibility into consideration."

Saudi Arabia is seen as the only oil exporter capable of boosting production sufficiently to make up for a crunch in the global oil market.

The president of JX Nippon Oil & Energy, Japan's biggest petroleum refiner, expressed confidence in the ability of the world's largest oil exporter to raise output, in a recent interview. "I think we can make do if we have months to spare," Yasushi Kimura told SankeiBiz digital news.

"We have sounded out Saudi Arabia on what can be done" if the ban on Iran is implemented, he said.

The foreign minister's eight-day tour, which began on Thursday, will include Qatar, the UAE and Turkey.