(Adds minister's comment, Einhorn visit)
By Cho Mee-young
SEOUL Jan 12 South Korea's prime minister
will visit Oman and the United Arab Emirates from Friday to
discuss oil supply, as Seoul seeks a waiver from toughened U.S.
sanctions on Iran and looks into options including reducing
crude imports from Tehran.
South Korea, the world's fifth-largest crude importer, buys
10 percent of its oil from Iran.
The country's knowledge economy minister Hong Suk-woo told
Reuters "it was too early to say" if Seoul would reduce oil
imports from Iran.
"Our basic stance is to cooperate with the U.S." Hong told
Reuters on the sidelines of a local industry event, adding
officials from the two countries would meet next week to talk
about "concrete measures".
The State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation
and arms control, Robert Einhorn, will arrive in Seoul on Monday
for a three-day visit to explain Washington's new sanctions on
Iran, the foreign ministry said.
It said South Korea was planning to ask for Washington's
cooperation in minimizing the sanctions' economic impact on
local firms, and a source at the ministry of knowledge economy
said discussions were underway ahead of the U.S. talks.
"We are currently considering various measures to cope if we
need to reduce Iranian oil imports, if so, by how much, and if
not, how we can deal with this matter," the source, who has
direct knowledge of the matter, said.
Korean refiners have struck deals for 2012 supplies with
Iran for slightly more than they purchased last year, but are
also keeping an eye out for potential replacements, according to
company and industry sources earlier this month.
U.S. sanctions that President Barack Obama signed into law
on New Year's eve could prevent refiners from paying for Iran's
oil from July.
Tehran has warned it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, a
shipping chokepoint, if sanctions are imposed on its crude
Japan's finance minister pledged after talks with U.S.
Treasury Secretary Timonthy Geithner on Thursday to steadily
reduce oil imports from Iran in support of U.S. sanctions on
Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme, while India's
government has told its refiners to cut their dependence on
South Korea's Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik leaves Seoul for
Oman and the UAE on Thursday "to build stable energy supply
bases," according to a statement from the Prime Minister's
Asked if he will discuss U.S. sanctions and increased crude
oil imports from the Gulf states, a source at Prime Minister's
Office told Reuters: "He will meet Oman's commerce minister, and
it is possible to discuss such matters."
The UAE and Oman accounted for 10 and 2 percent of South
Korea's 846 million barrels of crude oil imports respectively
between January and November of this year, according to
state-run Korea National Oil Corp data.
Iran, already struggling to repatriate oil payments under
previous sanctions targeting financial transactions, has an
estimated $5 billion of oil money stuck in accounts in South
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)