Japan envoy to tighten the knot with Iran

Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe goes to Iran Aug. 6 in an attempt to solidify Japan's role as the only member of the Western bloc to maintain relations with Tehran.

Mr. Abe will be the first Japanese government minister to visit the Khomeini regime since the Shah was deposed. He reportedly hopes to make some progress based on the goodwill generated by a recent Japanese decision to go ahead with construction work on a $3.5 billion joint petrochemical complex at Bandar Khomeini, halted by the Gulf war.

At the very least, Japanese officials and businessmen are hopeful that more cordial relations with Iran will give this country an edge over Western rivals in business deals.

Japanese trading-company executives have high hopes for the Iranian market, which is currently clouded, however, by the war and uncertainty over the future political course of the Tehran regime.

Nevertheless, trade is expanding. Last year, Japan exported goods worth about mark and there are predictions the final figure could be $2.5 billion - a level not approached since the late Shah's reign in the 1970's.

One of the drawbacks of this trade, however, has been the fact that a good proportion of it is covered by barter deals: Japanese traders have to buy two dollars worth of Iranian oil for every one dollar of exports.

This has almost doubled Japan's oil imports from Iran and left local traders with a lot of unwanted crude, which they have to re-export or sell at unprofitable prices.

Trading sources are hopeful such barter deals will decline as Japanese exports become dominated by sales of industrial plants or high technology.

A subway system for Tehran, power stations, petrochemical, chemical, fertilizer and auto-assembly plants are among the projects now under consideration.

Abe also will going to Iraq (Aug. 9-11) as part of a five-nation tour that includes Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. In Baghdad, he will discuss yen credits and export finance, now urgently needed by Iraq because of the drastic shrinkage in its oil revenues and the crippling finance burden of the war.

The visit to both Iran and Iraq will provide an important test of Japan's desire to promote its ''independent peace diplomacy.'' Abe said he would take advantage of the friendly ties Japan has with the two warring Gulf states to issue a strong appeal for an early peace.

But, aware of Japan's limitations in the world balance of power, he ruled out any attempt to mediate between the two nations.

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