US urges Japan to get tough on Iran

TOKYO (AFP) — Senior US officials on Wednesday urged Japan to follow Europe's example and take "strong measures" to punish Iran over its contentious nuclear programme.

Japan imposed sanctions against Iran on Tuesday in line with a UN resolution and said it plans to announce additional punitive measures later this month.

Robert Einhorn, State Department special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, called for tough measures from Tokyo, which has long been on relatively good terms with Tehran.

"Japan imports a lot of oil from Iran, but the steps we are asking Japan to take would not interfere in any way with Japan's energy security, its imports of oil from Iran," he told a press conference.

He said he had told Japanese officials in an earlier meeting "to look at the measures already adopted by the European Union".

"These are strong measures. Japanese adoption of these strong measures would not adversely affect the economy of Japan," said the official, who earlier visited South Korea to rally support for tough sanctions.

The UN Security Council in June slapped its fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment work, part of a nuclear programme which many nations fear masks a drive for nuclear weapons.

The European Union last week announced additional sanctions, which have been opposed by Russia and China, now Iran's closest trading partner, with major energy interests in the country.

The EU measures include a ban on the sale of technology and services to Iran's energy sector, hitting activities in refining, liquefied natural gas, exploration and production, and a ban on investments in the energy sector.

Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Daniel Glaser, a senior Treasury official overseeing efforts to combat terrorist financing and financial crimes, said US officials "look forward to (Japan's) next steps that go beyond its UN requirements".

On North Korea, Einhorn said he was unsure whether Pyongyang was ready to return to six-party talks aimed at stemming its nuclear ambitions, given its recent behaviour -- for example, the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, for which a multinational panel blamed the North.

"North Korea's actions raised legitimate questions in the minds of people about whether they are actually prepared to live up to their obligations to disarm completely, verifiable and irreversibly," he said.

"If the North Koreans are sincere... they have to take convincing tangible steps," Einhorn said.

He said those who had met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il indicated he seemed to be "of sound mind" despite his apparent poor health.

"He seems to be talking and acting effectively," Einhorn said.

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