Japan is "extremely circumspect" about the US-led drive to impose sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the country's foreign minister said Friday, apparently contradicting an earlier pledge to join Washington's campaign.
"The United States would like to impose sanctions. We believe it is necessary to be extremely circumspect about this matter," Koichiro Gemba told a press conference.
Gemba's comments come 24 hours after Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Japan wanted to "take planned and concrete steps to further reduce" Tokyo's dependence on Iranian crude.
At Friday's news conference, jointly held with visiting French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Gemba said the Japanese government had come to no conclusions on the sanctions issue.
"We must look at this extremely carefully and find an intelligent solution," he told reporters.
"We as a government are in the process of examining the issue and coming to a common position."
Gemba said over the last five years Japan had reduced its dependence on Iranian crude, which now made up around nine percent of the country's oil imports.
"We are examining whether there is any advantage in a further reduction.
"But it is important to know what impact any reduction would have on the price of crude.
"If there was a resurgence in price that could not be considered a sanction, because the more the price of oil rises, the more Iran benefits.
"One can imagine there would be negative effects (from this scheme) not just on Japan but on the world economy."
Russia slams Iran sanctions, holds firm on Syria
Russia warned the West on Friday that new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme will be seen by the world as a bid to change the Islamic republic's regime.
Moscow also said it strongly disagreed with the West's approach to its other regional ally Syria and would use its position in the UN Security Council to avert foreign military intervention in both crises.
"Additional sanctions against Iran ... will unquestionably be perceived by the international community as an attempt at changing the regime in Iran," Deputy Foreign Minister Gannady Gatilov was quoted as saying by Intefax.
His comments came as European governments moved closer to an agreement on an Iranian oil embargo that would give companies six months to phase out contracts with Tehran.
Russia has backed four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against its close trading partner and this week expressed "regret and worry" at Tehran's decision to begin uranium enrichment at a new nuclear plant.
But it has urged restraint in the current escalation and is still promoting a peace plan that rewards Iran for cooperating with foreign inspectors by gradually easing existing sanctions.
Gatilov argued that crippling punishment would only inflame conflict and hinted at Moscow's willingness to veto any such future attempts at the Security Council.
"The adoption by Western states of unilateral measures that go outside the frameworks of UN Security Council decisions have a negative effect on the Iranian people and its economy," the Russian diplomat said.
"This line of action undermines the international community's efforts at resolving the Iranian nuclear problem," he said.
The twin crises have highlighted the trouble the West has been facing from Moscow despite a "reset" in relations announced nearly three years ago by Washington.
The Syrian crisis has seen Russia accuse the West of setting double standards by turning a blind eye on the violence being committed by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Gatilov on Friday again flatly rebuffed changes to its Council resolution on the 10-month crackdown being promoted by Western states.
"Unfortunately, the West's approach radically differs from ours," said Gatilov.
"Judging by the contents of their proposed amendments, their goal is clearly aimed at removing al-Assad's regime in Damascus," he said.
Russia and China vetoed a European resolution on Syria in October but Moscow surprised the Security Council two months later by proposing its own resolution condemning violence by both the government and opposition.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week accused Russia of refusing to negotiate changes to its draft that would also suit the West.
The Russian diplomat said Moscow would hold a new round of consultation over its draft in the coming days.
But he also added that Russia fully trusted the much-criticised mission being undertaken in Syria by Arab League monitors.
"We feel their presence is a stabilising factor in Syria that promotes the chances of a peaceful settlement," he said.