P.M. BRIEFING : Japan Sidestepping ‘Verses’ Flap

<i> From Times wire services </i>

Japan’s oil imports from Iran will decline this spring, but that may reflect lower seasonal demand rather than a reaction to the controversy over Iran’s death threat against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” a senior official said today.

Taizo Watanabe, the chief spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Japan will take “a back position” in condemning the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death threat against Rushdie. Tokyo will leave it to the United States to play the lead role, he said.

Japan’s policy toward the Middle East, guided in large part by its almost complete dependence on imported oil, has been not to offend oil-producing states in that region.