IRAN: US blocks Tehran-Tokyo oil deal



Claiming that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, US government officials have pressured Japan to abandon the development of a huge oil project there. According to a report in the July 2 edition of the Tokyo daily Mainichi Shimbun, US national security adviser Condoleeza Rice and deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage issued the "request" in late June via Japan's US ambassador.

The Japanese government and a consortium of Japanese companies had been negotiating with Tehran to develop the Azadegan oil field, one of the largest in Iran with an estimated 26 billion barrels in reserves.

Iran is Japan's third biggest oil supplier and the Azadegan project was expected to yield 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day — almost doubling Iran's supply of oil to Japan, which has no oil reserves of its own and imports 4 million barrels a day.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun report, Tokyo had expected the US$2.5 billion project to become a new source of energy supply for Japan after the Arabian Oil Company, Japan's top oil field developer, lost its oil-drilling rights in Al Khafji, Saudi Arabia, in 2000.

"Given recent revelations about Iran's nuclear programs and efforts being made through the International Atomic Energy Agency to deal with the threat Iran poses, this would be a particularly unfortunate time to go forward with major new oil and gas deals", US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters on June 30.

With Russian assistance, Iran is building a nuclear power plant at the port city of Bushehr. Washington claims the plant is part of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. Tehran claims that the Bushehr plant will enable Iran to reduce the amount of oil that is needed for domestic energy consumption, thus increasing the amount that can used to earn export revenues.

After receiving the "request" from Washington, the Japanese government decided to postpone the signing of the Azadegan deal.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials have revealed that more than 4000 people were arrested during last month's pro-reform protests. On June 28, the state-run Iran daily newspaper reported that Iran's prosecutor general, Abdolnabi Namazi, said about 800 students and 30 key student leaders were among the 4000 arrested as a result of the June 10-14 protests. Namazi said about 2000 people remained in jail.

Officials had earlier said only 520 people, mostly "hooligans", had been detained.

"The confirmation of 4000 arrests shows how insincere the rulers are and how the crisis has deepened in Iran", student leader Saeed Allahbadashti told the Associated Press.

Last month's protests began with students demonstrating against rumoured government plans to privatise universities. They quickly snowballed, however, into broader public demonstrations of opposition to the control exercised over Iran's political system by reactionary clerics led by "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Allahbadashti, one of few student leaders not imprisoned during the protests, said the clerical establishment had lost its legitimacy as a result of the police crackdown on the protests.

"The judicial authorities are openly lying to the nation. First, they said a few hooligans had been arrested. Now, they confirm the arrest of 800 students", he told AP. "They are buying only greater hatred from the people whose call for change has been ignored."

The authorities are trying to prevent a new round of student protests to mark the fourth anniversary of a July 9, 1999, attack on Tehran University dormitories by pro-clerical thugs, in which one student was killed. The attack triggered six days of nationwide, anti-government protests, the biggest since the 1979 popular revolution that toppled the pro-US dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Authorities have banned any pro-reform marches to commemorate the July 1999 events. Student leaders have vowed to defy the ban.

From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.

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