The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 25           July 28, 2003  
Tokyo suspends oil deal with
Tehran, aiding imperialist
campaign against Iran
Iranian students mark anniversary
of protests for democratic rights
(front page)
Students protest in Tehran July 1999. Marking anniversary of those demonstrations has become rallying point for current student actions for democratic freedoms.

The Japanese government has delayed the signing of a $2.5 billion oil deal with Tehran, citing “suspicion about Iran’s nuclear development.” The decision reflected Tokyo’s firm place in the U.S.-led lineup of imperialist powers applying intensifying pressure on the Middle Eastern nation to end its nuclear program and make other concessions.

Washington stepped up its long-standing campaign against Iran as it bombed, invaded, and then occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, with firm backing by London. These actions placed U.S. and British forces along Iran’s northern and western borders. White House and Pentagon officials have since been quoted speaking of their desire for “regime change” in Iran, while emphasizing that military action against the country of 66 million people is not a short-term option.

Meanwhile, students in Iran are gearing up to lead actions marking the July 9 anniversary of large protests and government repression four years ago. On that day in 1999, pro-regime goons, backed by the police, attacked students in the dormitories, injuring many and killing a conscript soldier who had participated in the student-led protests.

The July 1 announcement by Tokyo followed a joint U.S.-European Union statement targeting Iran and north Korea for their alleged role in the “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” The EU stance has put at risk a planned trade and cooperation agreement between European Union governments and Tehran, reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran.

Two days later, the U.S. government slapped economic sanctions on one north Korean and five Chinese enterprises that it claimed had assisted Tehran’s weapons programs. China’s foreign ministry responded to the measures with “strong dissatisfaction and stern opposition.”

The U.S. State Department said that shipments by the companies had “the potential to make a material contribution to weapons of mass destruction or missiles.” According to the New York Times a White House official said, “In China, in Pakistan, in Russia, you get government cooperation, and then you discover all the side deals that companies have made with rogue states.”

The sanctions, which remain in effect for two years, outlaw any trade by U.S. firms with these enterprises. The impact will be largely symbolic, since most of these companies are banned by existing sanctions from conducting such transactions.

The economic impact of Tokyo’s announcement will be greater. The decision suspended an agreement with Tehran by one private and two government-run companies in Japan to develop the newly discovered Azadegan oil field in collaboration with the National Iranian Oil Company. Touted as Iran’s biggest oil find in 35 years, the field is expected to yield 300,000 barrels per year over two decades.

“Suspicion about Iran’s nuclear development is not an issue affecting only our country,” said Yasuo Fukuda, the chief cabinet secretary. “We can’t sign the crude oil accord ignoring it.”

An “Iranian oil source” told Reuters that “Japan has been looking at Azadegan for a long time.” Tokyo imports almost all its oil requirements, some four-fifths of it from the Mideast. The article noted that officials of U.S. oil giants like Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and Conoco “are showing increased interest in Iran” and have even spoken against the sanctions that shut them out of the Azadegan field and other potential investments.

Washington has not budged on the sanctions, however. The day before the Japanese announcement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated the administration’s opposition to the deal. “This would be a particularly unfortunate time to go forward with major new oil and gas deals in Iran,” he said, “given recent revelations about Iran’s nuclear programs and efforts being made through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to deal with the threat Iran poses.”

The IAEA head, Mohammed elBaradei, is scheduled to visit Iran July 9. He is expected to press Tehran to sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty giving the green light to more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities, including short-notice or surprise visits.

“We would like to have Iran sign… an additional authority to be able to do more comprehensive verification,” ElBaradei said on the eve of his departure.

Khalil Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, indicated that ElBaradei would be welcome and that Iranian officials are open to “expanding cooperation between Iran and the IAEA.” Tehran has continued to hold off signing the protocol, using its refusal as a bargaining chip in its demand that it be allowed to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. IAEA officials have replied that the protocol is non-negotiable.

Reporting on the planned trip, Reuters journalist Parisa Hafezi noted that “the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union…all urged Tehran to allow more intrusive, short-notice nuclear inspections.”

On July 2, Bush paid tribute to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s cooperative stance. “I thanked him for keeping the pressure on the Iranian government to dismantle any notions they might have of building a nuclear weapons,” Bush said.

Putting a positive spin on Moscow’s position vis-à-vis relations with Tehran, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov told Gholmareza Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s nuclear program, that such inspections would “be another confirmation of the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program.” Russian experts are helping their Iranian counterparts construct a nuclear power reactor at Bushire—a project that has repeatedly come under Washington’s fire.

The Israeli government has continued to back the U.S.-led course.“The radical regime in Iran is threatening the stability not only of the state of Israel, but the European countries also,” stated Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom July 4. “Iran is a danger to the world.”

The Israeli liberal Haaretz daily reported the same day that Iran had launched a successful test of a ballistic missile with the range to reach Tel Aviv. The Shahab-3 missile “is a modified version of North Korea’s Nodong-1 surface-to-surface missile,” reported the Associated Press.  
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