Domestic Economy

Diplomat Says Japan Will Release all Iran Assets

Diplomat Says Japan Will Release all Iran AssetsDiplomat Says Japan Will Release all Iran Assets

The current political atmosphere should be blamed when it comes to Japan blocking Iranian assets from oil sales, a Japanese diplomat said on Monday, explaining that the Bank of Japan will immediately release Tehran's frozen assets as soon as western sanctions against the Islamic Republic are lifted.

Iran has been under the UN, US and EU sanctions since 2010 over a decade-long nuclear dispute with the west. The country is now in the middle of key talks with the six world powers known as the P5+1 group in a bid to come to a comprehensive agreement, which—if reached—would lead to the removal of sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting parts of its nuclear energy program.

In an interview with Financial Tribune, Nobuhiko Watanabe, first secretary and head of economic and commercial section of the Japanese Embassy in Tehran, said Tokyo is ready to transfer the Iranian money, which he said "hardly reaches $20 billion," after negotiations end by November 24— a deadline set by both sides to achieve a final agreement.

No official figure has yet been released on Iranian frozen assets overseas but the sum is estimated to be at least $100 billion, of which only $7 billion have been released over the past year, thanks to an interim deal reached between Tehran and the P5+1 last November.

Despite sanctions, Japanese entities have had branch offices in Iran, the first secretary noted, "Though the number doses not exceed 20."

He said: "Japanese firms are now active in Iran and we believe we're closer to Iranians than Europeans are," adding that "Japanese companies are already prepared to improve trade ties with Iranian firms once sanctions are totally lifted."

Watanabe said, Japan is now providing technical and educational support to an Iranian team formed to save Urumieh Lake—located in northwestern Iran— which is suffering from severe drought. He said his country has granted $1 million in financial aid to help Iran protect the lake.

In response to a question raised by the Financial Tribune regarding Japan's "excessive" tendency towards the United States, the diplomat admitted that, among other reasons, Tokyo has tried in recent years to maintain the US market and therefore has distanced itself from Iran. "If the Japanese government had further approached Iran, it could have lost the US market," he argued.

Japan has traditionally been a major importer of Iranian oil. The country's imports from Iran, which mainly included crude oil, totaled $6.7 billion in 2013, he said adding that Japan exported about $160 million worth of machinery and auto parts to Iran in the same year.

Watanabe and his colleague Second Secretary Ryota Onodera visited the newspaper's office on Monday morning. During their one-hour visit, the diplomats complained about the difficulties foreigners have faced in catching up on Iran's economic news, appreciating the Financial Tribune for having made the job easy.