* Clinton says Japan reducing Iran oil imports 15-20 percent
* Japan, EU states taking 'extraordinary steps' -Clinton
* Challenges remain as U.S. seeks to line up alternatives
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday pledged to aggressively implement new
U.S. sanctions on Iran but noted that some allies such as Japan
face "unique situations" as they seek to reduce Iranian oil
President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law the
harshest in a series of U.S. sanctions on Tehran over its
nuclear program, targeting foreign financial institutions that
do business with Iran's central bank or other blacklisted
Iranian financial entities.
The new U.S. sanctions have set off a scramble among
countries with significant Iranian oil imports to voluntarily
reduce such purchases so they would be exempted from the
For non-petroleum transactions, from Feb. 29 the law
requires the president to punish private banks that "knowingly
conducted or facilitated any significant financial transaction
with the Central Bank of Iran" or other blacklisted entities.
For oil-related transactions, from June 28 the law allows
the president to punish foreign banks that carry out financial
transactions "for the purchase of petroleum or petroleum
products from Iran" provided several conditions are met.
Obama has until March 30 to decide whether the price and
supply levels of non-Iranian oil and fuels such as gasoline,
diesel and jet fuel in global markets are sufficient for
countries to "significantly" reduce their Iranian purchases.
"We are implementing the new Iran sanctions aggressively,"
Clinton told a Senate panel, outlining steps aimed at hobbling
Iran's ability to make an atomic bomb by squeezing revenues from
its oil exports. Iran says its nuclear program is geared purely
to develop power stations and for medical purposes.
Clinton repeated that U.S. intelligence assessments held
that Iran had not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon. But
she said it was important to work with other countries to keep
up the pressure.
"I think that there's a very clear-eyed view of Iran and
Iranian objectives and that's why the president's policy is so
clear and adamant that the United States intends to prevent Iran
from obtaining a nuclear weapon," she said.
FRANK DISCUSSIONS ON OIL
Japan, the world's third biggest oil importer, last year
bought almost 9 percent of its crude from Iran and its
dependence on fuel imports has increased because almost all its
power-generating nuclear reactors have been shut after the
Fukushima nuclear disaster a year ago.
Japan's Nikkei business daily reported last week that Japan
could cut its Iranian oil imports by a more-than-expected 20
percent in its drive to win a U.S. exemption.
Clinton said U.S. teams had held "very frank" discussions
with their counterparts in a number of capitals on the need to
slash Iranian imports and cut dealings with Iran's central bank.
"We've seen a lot of action, a broad range of countries are
making decisions to reduce their dependence on Iranian crude,
unwind their dealings with the Central Bank of Iran," she said.
"The EU member states - some of those countries were
dependent up to 30-35 percent on Iranian crude - and Japan have
been among the most visible. They've been taking extraordinary
steps to try to comply with our sanctions and deny revenue to
Clinton said the United States understood that some
countries could not stop Iranian oil imports "cold turkey" and
was working hard to help them line up alternate supplies.
"We have some unique situations. Look at Japan," she said,
noting the impact of the earthquake and ensuing nuclear crisis.
"They have been reducing their imports from Iran in the
range of 15-20 percent since last year because we have been
working with them and talking to them," Clinton said.
Clinton said challenges remained on lining up alternative
oil suppliers, citing the slow resumption of Libyan oil
production and new sanctions on Syria, but overall the U.S.
sanctions effort appeared to be working.
"European and Asian companies are actually moving more
quickly in reducing their imports and their purchases than we
thought they'd be able to," Clinton said.
"We're just relentlessly pressing them ... we're going to do
the very best we can to help them."
(additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Mohammad