(Adds quotes, background)
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, March 9 U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that the United States and
South Korea were making progress in discussions on the
implementation of new U.S. sanctions on Iran but stopped short
of announcing any deal on a potential waiver.
South Korea, Japan and other U.S. allies have been
scrambling to voluntarily reduce Iranian oil imports in hopes of
winning waivers from penalties imposed by a new U.S. law on Iran
sanctions that takes effect this year.
"I would be the first to say we recognize the difficult
decisions and even the sacrifices that we are asking from other
countries in order to increase this pressure on Iran," Clinton
told reporters following talks with South Korean Foreign
Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
"We will just continue our work together. We're making
progress, and I think that is our assessment at this time," she
Clinton and Kim also pledged to step up cooperation between
Washington and Seoul as the two countries assess prospects for
resuming "six party" nuclear negotiations with North Korea along
with Japan, China and Russia.
Clinton said the United States, South Korea and Japan would
soon hold a joint meeting to discuss the next steps after
Pyongyang's surprise announcement last month that it would stop
long-range missile tests, nuclear tests and uranium enrichment
and allow U.N. inspectors back into the country to verify
"This is a modest step in the right direction and we will be
watching closely and judging North Korea's leaders by their
actions," Clinton said.
Washington and Seoul agreed there can be no fundamental
improvement in U.S. relations with North Korea until Pyongyang
takes steps to improve ties with South Korea - which it has
recently denounced despite the February announcement of its
"Continued coordination between the Republic of Korea and
the United States will be the single most important factor in
the coming discussion of the six-party talks," Kim said, adding
that both sides would be looking for "faithful implementation"
of Pyongyang's nuclear pledges.
But many in South Korea are watching first for any sign that
the United States may grant Seoul a waiver to the new sanctions
that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law on Dec. 31 in
his latest effort to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.
The U.S. law targets foreign financial institutions that do
business with Iran's central bank or other blacklisted Iranian
financial entities, and 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
Clinton said the United States was "deeply gratified" by
South Korea's efforts to join in pressuring Tehran, but
indicated that discussions on any potential waiver were still
"We are continuing our very close expert engagement,"
Clinton said, adding that talks with South Korea and others
involved not only efforts to reduce Iranian oil purchases but
also boosting production to shore up price stability and find
alternative supply sources.
"We are participating in the sanctions on Iran and we will
keep discussing the specific measures to do that as well," Kim
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen)