UPDATE 1-S.Korea's Sept Iran oil imports keep it close to target
* Imports 571,909 tonnes or 139,736 bpd Iran crude in Sept -customs
* June-Sept imports of Iran crude at 133,676 bpd
* Remains close to daily import target of 125,814 bpd
* Total Sept crude imports at 10 mln tonnes, down 10 pct
By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL, Oct 15 (Reuters) - South Korea's Iranian crude oil imports more than doubled in September from August, but its intake levels remain close to the target of cutting shipments for the June-November period by 15 percent to extend a U.S. sanctions waiver another six months.
To win waivers from the U.S. sanctions, Iran's crude buyers must continually reduce their shipments. Japan won its fourth six-month waiver last month, while Iran's other top buyers - China, India and South Korea - will be up for a renewal of exemptions in early December.
The European Union and the United States believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran says its programme is for power generation. Despite signs of better relations between the Islamic Republic and Washington, analysts say Iranian oil exports are likely to remain under pressure.
U.S. lawmakers on Monday urged President Barack Obama to keep to a hard line on sanctions imposed on Iran, a day before the resumption of talks on its nuclear programme between world powers and Tehran.
The U.S. and EU sanctions have already cost Iran billions of dollars a month in lost oil revenue, weakened its currency and crippled its economy.
South Korea imported 571,909 tonnes of Iranian crude last month, or 139,736 barrels per day (bpd), more than double the August barrels, preliminary customs data shows.
That puts the Asian country's imports from Iran for June-September at 133,676 bpd, according to Reuters calculations.
The total means South Korea remains close to the 125,814 bpd it aims to achieve in its imports from Iran in the six months through November. Seoul has vowed to slash Iranian oil imports by 15 percent from 148,016 bpd imported in December 2012 to May 2013, two sources told Reuters in June.
South Korea's Iranian crude oil imports vary from month to month as one of the two Korean refiners that import Iranian oil receives the oil only every two months, according to industry sources. The imports unexpectedly jumped in July from the year-earlier period before falling in August to a third of those a month earlier.
SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank are the only South refiners that take Iranian oil on a regular basis.
South Korea imported no Iranian crude in August and September of 2012 due to EU restrictions on insurance for tankers carrying the oil.
South Korea, the world's fifth-largest crude buyer, imported a total of 10 million tonnes of crude last month against 11.1 million tonnes in September 2012, data from the Korea Customs Service also showed on Tuesday.
Final data for South Korea's crude oil imports last month will be published by state-run Korea National Oil Corp later this month. (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Additional reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Tom Hogue)