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Comment (May 26, 2004)

Rejoinder to Comments on "Japan to Polish its Tarnished Middle East Image"

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

I am grateful to Michael Penn for his comments on my article "Japan to Polish its Tarnished Middle East Image.." While we are in agreement on many of the main points in the article, there are some areas where Michael has a different perspective or draws alternative conclusions. I will briefly address these issues and clarify my reasoning.

Michael Penn: "Curtin misreads what happened in regard to Iran's Azadegan oil field in Iran... Apparently, he overlooked the March 30, 2004, comments of Representative Brad Sherman... 'An administration desperate for re-election will take 550 soldiers from Japan, which provide the veneer of international support and credibility for our relations in Iraq, which is the preoccupation of the electorate, and give the green light to $2.8 billion going from Japan to Iran.'"

Sean Curtin: No, I did not overlook these comments. However, instead of using the personal opinion of a Democrat congressman to represent the policy position of the Bush administration, I thought it more appropriate to use the 18 February 2004 official statement of U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Asked about the Bush administration's view on Japan signing the Azadegan oil deal, Boucher said, "Our policy has been, with respect to Iran, to oppose petroleum investment there." He added, "We remain deeply concerned about deals such as this, and disappointed that these things might go forward."

That is why I wrote, "In February, and against the express wishes of the Bush administration, a Japanese consortium signed a massive US$2 billion (215 billion yen) deal with Tehran to develop the huge Azadegan oilfield."

Incidentally, the signing of the Azadegan oil deal has caused a genuine sense of anger amongst the more hawkish elements of the Bush administration, who think Iran poses a very serious nuclear threat and passionately view the country as a "still to be dealt with" part of the "axis of evil." A one minute conversation with any of these people will convince you that the Bush administration, or at least some prominent elements of it, is deeply unhappy about Japan inking the Azadegan deal.

Michael Penn: "John de Boer's comments also deserve some describe Japan's policy as 'consistently independent' in the period between 1973-2001 is well beyond the realms of reality."

Sean Curtin: I cannot speak for Dr. de Boer, but he has published extensively on this issue. Here is a very brief extract from an article he wrote in February: (Predicted Backlash from U.S. over Oil Deal with Iran Misplaced) "For over 50 years, Japan has not been afraid to take a policy position in the Middle East that contradicts that of the U.S...In the larger Middle Eastern context, Japans position vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been out of line to that of the U.S. While the U.S. has been consistently pro-Israeli, particularly since 1967, Japan has been clearly pro-Arab since 1952. While most scholars interpret Japan's policy, as expressed in the Nikaido statement following the oil-shocks of 1973 as the major policy shift in favor of the Arabs, my investigations indicate that Japan took a blatantly pro-Arab stance soon after it established ties with Israel in 1952..."

Michael Penn: "It may be true that some senior Japanese officials, stunned by the near-disaster of the hostage crisis, are now beginning to give some thought to Muslim public opinion. However, Curtin's assertion that this represents a 'radically different' approach from that of Washington's is quite overdrawn and misleading."

Sean Curtin: I do not think my comments are "overdrawn and misleading." As John de Boer's brief historical outline above illustrates, Japan's Middle East policy has been different from that of the US and at present Japan is vigorously trying to reassert this distinctiveness.

I have spoken to quite a number of current foreign ministry officials and diplomats who inform me Japan is actively trying to demonstrate that with the exception of Iraq its overall Middle East policy is markedly different from that of the US. Funds have also been allocated for promoting Japan's distinctive Middle East policy positions in the Arab world.

Once again, I am grateful to Michael for his comments and alterative analysis to that of mine and John de Boer's.

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