Japan, unlike China, Thursday assured the United States it will take steps to cut oil imports from Iran, whose nuclear program has become a major concern.
Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, told reporters his country would reduce its imports of Iranian crude oil ''as soon as possible and in a planned and measured manner'' in line with U.S. sanctions on Iran, Kyodo News reported.
Geithner traveled to Tokyo from Beijing, where Chinese officials told him they would not go along with economic sanctions against Iran.
"We oppose pressuring or international sanctions because these pressures and sanctions are not helpful," Chinese Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Zhai Jun was quoted as saying.
Responding to Azumi's comments, Geithner said Japan is a ''vital security and economic ally'' for the United States, and the two countries will work closely together on the issue of Iran, Kyodo reported.
"We want to take actions to further reduce our 10 percent dependency (of Japan's total crude imports) as soon as possible in a planned manner," The Wall Street Journal quoted Azumi as saying.
Azumi said Japan has already cut imports from Iran by 40 percent in the past five years.
The United States is seeking cooperation from major importers of Iranian oil for its new initiative against Iran's nuclear program -- which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes. China is a large buyer of Iranian oil and has other economic interests in that country.
The U.S. effort, if successful, would cut off Iran's central bank from the global financial system to prevent it from handling oil payments to Iran.
Geithner told reporters in Tokyo the U.S. government is working closely with Europe, Japan and other countries to pressure Iran, the Journal reported. The report said there are concerns in importing countries like China, Japan and South Korea about U.S. legislation that would punish global banks that deal with the Iranian central bank.
The Journal said Azumi held talks with Geithner even as Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba was touring Middle Eastern oil producers for talks to increase their oil output.
Despite China's response to Geithner, The New York Times reported the administration of President Barack Obama appeared confident.
"We are in the early stages of a broad global diplomatic effort to take advantage of this new legislation to significantly intensify the pressure on Iran," a senior administration official told the Times. "We are telling them what's important to us, and they are listening."