WASHINGTON/PARIS - U.S. President Barack Obama will seek support to tap emergency oil reserves from other Group of Eight leaders at a summit this weekend before the European Union's July embargo of Iranian crude, Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday.
The report suggests that a slide in oil prices to their lowest in months has not halted U.S. efforts to use strategic oil stockpiles to offset diminishing exports from Iran, which is facing tough new sanctions on its oil industry.
The EU ban on imports comes into full force in July.
Kyodo said Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was expected to support the call, which comes after several months of discussion with allies including France and Britain. It is the first indication that Japan may support the move, although it is far from clear that sceptical nations like Germany have been won over.
The White House declined comment on the report.
"General energy and climate change issues will be discussed at the G8, as part of a larger focus on the economic issues. As we have said repeatedly, all options remain on the table, but we have no additional announcement to make," an administration official said.
Separately, a French diplomatic source suggested that newly-elected Socialist President Francois Hollande was also prepared to go along with efforts to tap government-held stockpiles, a change of stance from prior to the vote.
"The U.S. has an approach that we don't condemn," a diplomatic source under the new presidency said, without specifying what the U.S. approach was. "I think the discussions will be easy and I don't expect any conflict on this question," he added ahead of a Friday meeting between Obama and Hollande.
In pursuing what would be an unprecedented second release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve during his term, Obama may be embarking on a risky political strategy. While he may help head off a damaging spike in gasoline prices this summer, he also risks attack from foes who argue that the SPR should be reserved for use only in the event of a supply crisis.
"As an economic matter, the timing would require explanation. As a foreign policy tool this would be a smart bomb detonated in the heart of the Iranian economy with no physical casualties," said David Goldwyn, who headed international energy affairs at the State Department until early 2011. "You have to love the move from a strategic perspective."
U.S. crude oil prices, which were already down sharply when the news hit, edged still lower after the report. Oil closed down 1.24 percent at $92.81 a barrel.