UPDATE 2-Japan's imports of Iranian oil may fall 15 pct in 2013
* Japan's 2013 Iran imports may fall 15 percent
* Imports next year likely capped at 160,000 bpd
* U.S. requires Iran buyers to keep cutting imports
By Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Japan's crude oil imports from Iran may be about 15 percent lower next year, the Asian country's top refiner said on Wednesday, potentially allowing Tokyo to avoid being ensnared in U.S. sanctions on Tehran for another six months.
Iran's top Asian oil buyers -- China, India, Japan and South Korea -- are slashing imports after the United States and the European Union targeted oil sales with sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
The sanctions have hit Iran's oil exports this year, costing Tehran up to $5 billion a month in lost revenue.
Japan's imports from Iran are likely to be capped at roughly 160,000 barrels per day (bdp) next year and may possibly be cut further, the chairman of JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp, Yasushi Kimura, told reporters on Wednesday.
Buyers of Iranian oil have been given waivers to avoid being excluded from the U.S. financial system, provided they show continuous reductions in purchases. Japan's latest waiver comes up for renewal in March.
JX renewed its term crude contract from January next year, Kimura said.
JX has a term contract to buy an estimated 83,000 bpd of Iranian crude and condensate until the end of December. But volumes for next year have not yet been decided, Kimura said.
Japan imported about 160,000 bpd in October and averaged 187,717 bpd for the first ten months of this year, down 41.3 percent from a year earlier, calculations based on trade ministry data show.
"That means we would make some reductions from the current level," Kimura said, referring to JX's purchases of Iranian oil.
JX has put on hold the renewal of another Iranian crude contract for 10,000 bpd that expired in March.
Crude shipments from Iran have more than halved in 2012 due to the U.S. and European sanctions on its oil trade, straining Tehran's finances, pressuring its currency and igniting inflation.
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