(Refiles to clarify timing of meeting in paragraph 4)
* May imports at 757,900 bpd, +36.4 pct on yr, -5.2 pct on
* Jan-May imports up nearly 50 pct on yr
* Top refiner Sinopec stepped up imports; new condensate
BEIJING, June 23 China's Iranian crude oil
imports expanded 36 percent in May from a year ago to the second
highest on record, customs data showed on Monday, and imports in
the first five months of 2014 gained nearly 50 percent over the
same year-ago period.
China, Tehran's largest oil client, has since late 2013 been
stepping up purchases from the OPEC country after a landmark
November nuclear deal eased some sanctions on Iran, making up
the main portion of Asia's higher imports since then.
Asian buyers are expected to import about 1.25 million-1.3
million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian oil in the six months
through June, mostly owing to China's increases, industry and
government sources have said.
Iran and six world powers met last week in Vienna to narrow
differences and keep alive hopes of reaching a final nuclear
deal by late July.
China's May imports at 3.22 million tonnes, or 757,900 bpd,
eased from a record high of nearly 800,000 bpd in the previous
Top refiner Sinopec Corp has since
last November been lifting full contract volumes or more of
Iranian oil deemed cheaper versus similar grades from Saudi
Arabia, industry officials have told Reuters.
The increases were both a result of the state refiner's new
push to cut crude procurement costs and the easing sanctions
environment, they said.
Also contributing to strong import figures were imports
started around last August by an independently-run
petrochemicals company in southeast China of condensate, a very
light crude oil from Iran's South Pars gas project. China counts
condensate as crude oil.
The supplies have until now been on spot or semi-term basis.
But from around August, they would be under a one-year term deal
that was reached between state-run trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp
and National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).
Iran now ranks No.3 among the top suppliers, according to
customs, with growth in the January-May period the fastest among
China's top suppliers, outpacing that of Iraq, Oman, Angola and
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua; Editing by Muralikumar