South Korea has not bought any Iranian oil since June, an official from the Iranian oil ministry told Shana. This makes it the first country to actually bring its Iranian imports down to zero following the pullout of the United States from the so-called Iran nuclear deal.
The official, Kasra Nouri, director of the ministry’s public relations department spoke in response to claims from South Korean officials that Korean companies continued working with Iran despite the sanctions.
Before it suspended oil purchases from Iran, South Korea imported a daily average of 180,000 bpd, which made it one of the top three buyers of Iran’s crude, after China and India.
In July, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources, that South Korean refiners had halted their oil purchases from Iran, even as it talked to Washington in an attempt to secure a waiver from the sanctions that come into effect in early November.
“There was pressure from the South Korean government to halt purchases,” one of the sources said at the time. “South Korea overall is lifting zero oil (from Iran) for July loading.” Apparently, Korean refiners followed the same line for the next two months as well.
This might not bode well for bilateral relations, but the new ambassador of Seoul to Tehran this weekend reassured his hosts that bilateral business relations would continue despite the sanctions.
“South Korean companies did not cut their trade and business cooperation with Iranian economic enterprises in the sanctions period,” Yu Chang Hwang said.
Japan has also stopped importing Iranian oil despite hopes that local refiners could secure a waiver from the United States. Like South Korea, Japan also hopes to maintain positive bilateral trade relations with Tehran despite the sanctions.
Although Japan, along with South Korea, is an important buyer of Iranian crude, which Tehran has done its best to keep on its books by deepening its sales discounts, China is the country that Tehran has pinned most of its hopes on.
“If China . . . buys Iran’s oil, we can resist the U.S.,” one Iranian analyst told the Financial Times in July, amid reports of import cuts among Iran’s Asian clients. “China is the only country which can tell the US off.”
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.