TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Friday lifted sanctions on Iran, falling in line with major world powers after the United Nations atomic energy agency confirmed last weekend that Tehran had fully taken steps to curb its disputed nuclear program.
Iran emerged from years of economic isolation when the U.S. and other countries lifted crippling sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Tens of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets are now unfrozen and global companies that have been barred from doing business there will be able to exploit a market hungry for everything from automobiles to airplane parts.
"Japan would like to strengthen our cooperative relationship with Iran further and contribute to the peace and stability of the Middle East through our traditional friendly relationship with Iran," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said as he made the announcement at a regular press conference.
With the lifting of the sanctions, Japanese insurance companies will be able to issue policies covering trade deals involving Iran. Japanese business will also be able make new investments in Iran's oil and gas sector.
An investment agreement between Tehran and Tokyo is expected to be signed soon. Japanese companies are already lining up to resume business ties with Iran, with Suzuki Motor Corp on Thursday saying it was considering returning to the Iranian market.
The International Atomic Energy Agency ruled on Saturday, Jan. 16, that Iran had abided by an agreement last year with six world powers to curtail its nuclear program, triggering the end of sanctions.
The United States and other countries formally lifted banking, steel, shipping and other sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer that has been virtually shut out of international markets for the past five years.
Iran has always denied its nuclear program was aimed at obtaining an atomic bomb.
Washington still maintains separate, less comprehensive sanctions on Iran over its missile program.
That has left some companies cautious, with Japanese oil refiners telling Reuters last week they will keep using special government insurance to ship Iranian oil because of uncertainty over whether U.S. insurers can provide coverage.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Tom Hogue