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Japan says arms issue won't affect Iran relations

TOKYO, March 29 (Reuters) - Japan said on Wednesday it did not expect any diplomatic fallout over the alleged involvement of a senior Iranian diplomat and OPEC official in illegal military exports from Japan.

``We are not linking this incident to our relations with Iran,'' said Ryu Yamazaki, press secretary at Japan's Foreign Ministry. ``This incident is being left up to the authorities who are investigating.''

Japanese police said they had sent papers implicating Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, a former ambassador to Japan and now Iran's governor to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and another former embassy official to Tokyo prosecutors.

Ardebili, who is a candidate to become secretary-general of OPEC, and the embassy employee are suspected of paying 6.1 million yen in 1994 to a Japanese firm accused of illegally exporting parts for anti-tank rocket launchers to Iran.

Two executives of the firm, Sun Beam KK, a small Tokyo-based trading house that went bankrupt two years ago, were arrested last month and have pleaded guilty to charges they illegally exported military parts to Iran in 1995.

Prosecutors have said the two -- Ichiro Takashashi, 63, and Tsuneo Ishida, 67 -- shipped the parts to Iran after receiving orders for sighting devices used in rocket launches from state-run Iran Electronics Industries (IEI).

Analysts said filing of papers against the two Iranians appeared to be a formality that did not involve actual charges and was a legal technicality needed to bring charges against the Japanese company.

``This is highly unlikely to become a major diplomatic problem because the man is not in Japan now,'' said diplomatic analyst Hideaki Kase.

Iran was unlikely to respond, for example by expelling Japanese diplomats, for the same reason and to avoid upsetting Japan, which has offered aid, he said.

The Iranian embassy in Tokyo said it had no involvement.

``There is no connection between Iran and the fact that a Japanese firm broke its own country's laws a number of years ago,'' the embassy said in a statement.

``We hope that this matter, which could damage relations between our two nations, is quickly resolved,'' it added.

The Foreign Ministry's Yamazaki said Japan was optimistic about its future relations with Iran, adding there was a standing invitation for its president, Mohammad Khatami, to visit Japan.

``The arms incident is under due process of law and is up to the relevant authorities,'' he said, declining to comment on whether the issue could escalate to the point that it would effect Iranian oil supplies to Japan.

Japan imported 183.3 million barrels of crude oil from Iran in calendar 1999, its third-largest supplier after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.


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