Malaysia cuts petrol supply to Iran
Teo Cheng Wee

Move seen as bid to win over US, one of its biggest trade partners Malaysia has cut off petrol supplies to Iran, and warned Teheran that it was close to facing new international sanctions over its nuclear programme.

This signals a shift in foreign policy by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Analysts see it as one of the steps Malaysia is taking to win favour with the United States - one of its biggest trading partners - as it attempts to revive its economy.

Datuk Seri Najib announced the move in the US on Thursday, three days after he held his first bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit.

'It's going to be quite inevitable that additional sanctions will be imposed in the near future unless there is some movement in the right direction by Iran,' said Mr Najib.

'The onus is on Iran now to react expeditiously to prevent additional sanctions.'

The decision to suspend petrol supplies was made after discussions between the Malaysian government and state oil firm Petronas. The supply was cut off in the middle of last month, according to a Petronas spokesman.

Iran has been under mounting global pressure to abandon its nuclear programme, with the US and its allies accusing it of wanting to produce nuclear weapons. Teheran maintains that the programme is meant only to produce energy.

As a Muslim-majority country, Malaysia's action is seen as significant.

It has often aligned itself with the causes of other Muslim countries and, particularly under the leadership of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, had clashed with the US in the past over the latter's support for Israel.

But Mr Obama had urged the world to move 'boldly and quickly' on tough sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear programme. Until last month, Petronas was among a small group of non-Chinese oil companies still supplying petrol to the Islamic republic.

Echoing Mr Obama's call, Mr Najib said Teheran should comply with the United Nations Security Council's order to suspend uranium enrichment activities until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can verify they are exclusively peaceful as Iran claims.

Mr Najib maintained that Malaysia appreciated its economic relations with Iran and that Petronas would lift its suspension if Iran complies with the IAEA.

Besides stopping its petrol supply to Iran, Malaysia also passed a law two weeks ago to curb the trafficking of nuclear weapon components.

It is an issue that had raised concerns from the US in recent years, after Malaysia was linked to the illegal supply of nuclear technology to countries like Iran and Libya.

The Bill provides for prison terms of at least five years, and fines of millions of ringgit for those who illegally import or export materials that can be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Najib's actions have already earned him plaudits from top US diplomat Kurt Campbell.

He pointed out that the seeds have been sown for a 'careful, quiet lift-off in US-Malaysia relations'.

At home though, the opposition has been quick to seize on Mr Najib's overtures to the US.

In an interview with opposition publication Harakah Daily on Friday, Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim accused Mr Najib of betraying Muslims and Malaysia.

'Why is Najib afraid to voice up against Israel and instead bows down to the US to sanction Iran? Why not Israel?' he said.

But political analyst Ooi Kee Beng does not think the opposition will gain much ground from this.

He feels that foreign issues often do not resonate with the public. Most Malaysians, however, will agree that foreign investment is important to the country, Mr Ooi said.