* Indonesia, Philippines say not importing Iranian oil
* Deadline to reduce Iranian crude imports is end of June
* India says "exploring different possibilities"
* Turkey looking for other oil suppliers to fill any gaps
By Rachelle Younglai and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, April 22 Iran's trading partners are
looking for ways to avoid being hit by U.S. sanctions on Iranian
oil transactions that take effect mid-year, with Turkey looking
for other suppliers, India exploring options and smaller Asian
countries arguing their imports from Tehran are tiny.
Turkey, the fifth-largest buyer of Iranian oil, has
committed to reduce its crude from Tehran by 10 percent and the
country's only refiner, Tupras, a unit of Koc Holding
, has pledged to cut imports by 20 percent.
"The bottom line is that there are alternative suppliers. We
are not buying at a subsidized price. We are buying at an
international price," Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek
told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 20 finance
ministers meetings in Washington last week.
"We obviously comply with United Nations sanctions. With
U.S. sanctions, of course now we are looking at basically
options out there in terms of oil. It's premature but something
is being worked out," he said.
India, the second largest buyer of Iranian crude, said it
was exploring options. "We are having some problems on how to
fund the (oil) import because we have to pay back the oil
import," India's finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told Reuters
on the sidelines of the G20 meetings.
"That's one of the problems but we are exploring different
possibilities," he said.
The U.S. penalties are designed to crimp Tehran's oil
revenues by stopping financial institutions from conducting oil
transactions with Iran's central bank, which handles most of the
country's oil payments. If countries do not significantly reduce
their Iranian oil imports by mid-year, they could see their
banks blocked from U.S. markets.
Eleven countries, including Japan, have already won a
reprieve from the U.S. law after reducing Iranian oil
consumption. China, the No. 1 consumer of Iranian crude, is
waiting to hear from the Obama administration on whether it will
The European Union has proposed similar penalties on the
central bank of Iran and plans an embargo on Iranian oil from
July as part of a Western campaign to curb Iran's nuclear
The United States and other Western powers say Iran's
nuclear program is aimed at acquiring a weapon, an allegation
Fears the sanctions on the world's third-largest oil
exporter will disrupt supplies have helped push crude prices
over $100 a barrel.
In a communique on Friday after their talks, the G20
developed and emerging nations agreed to closely watch oil
prices and carry out "additional actions."
The finance ministers did not specify what measures they
would take except to say they "welcomed commitments by producing
countries to ensure there was enough oil in the markets."
"Continued cooperation to ensure adequate supply will signal
to global energy markets that there will be sufficient
production available to meet demand," U.S. Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner told the International Monetary Fund's
governing committee on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia is pumping 10 million barrels of oil per day -
close to its highest level in decades - and has said it would
increase levels to help counter shortfalls created by the loss
of Iranian oil. U.S. officials have said increasing production
from Iraq, Angola, Libya and other countries will help keep
global crude oil markets supplied.
HIGH OIL PRICES
Twelve other countries could eventually be subject to U.S.
sanctions by the end of June. A number of Asian countries,
including South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, are on Washington's
While Japan has cut purchases of Iranian crude by 15 percent
to 22 percent, officials from some of the countries on the list
have said they are not sure how much they would have to cut to
avoid sanctions. The law only says they have to cut purchases
"substantially" and the U.S. State Department has not elaborated
about what other countries would have to do.
Indonesia said the U.S. government has asked whether their
oil importers were bringing in Iranian crude.
"We have convinced them that we do not import Iranian oil
and there are no Indonesian oil importers who import oil from
Iran," Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan told Reuters.
South Korea characterized its talks with the Obama
administration as "constructive," and White House officials have
said the same. But the country has not said how much it is
trying to cut.
Singapore and the Philippines were quick to point out that
they imported very little Iranian crude or nothing at all.
"The reality is that Singapore's import of Iranian oil is
minimal," said a spokesman for Singapore's embassy in
Singapore's government has informed companies in Singapore
about the U.S. sanctions, the embassy said. "We expect that
given the importance of the U.S. in the world economy, companies
... will take notice of this case and make their own
calculations in the light of their own commercial interests,"
said the embassy's spokesman.
As of the end of March, the Philippines had not imported any
Iranian oil, its embassy in Washington said. Last year, the
Philippines imported 5.9 million barrels of Iranian crude oil,
Other small countries not on the U.S. list said they backed
Western efforts to crack down on Iran but were nervous about the
pressure it has put on crude prices.
The "high import costs of oil is affecting substantially our
economy and balance of payments," Xavier-Luc Duval, the
vice-prime minister of Mauritius told reporters on the sidelines
of the IMF meeting. Mauritius does not rely on Iran for oil.
"The importance for world security and world peace outweigh
any temporary inconveniences that there will be," Duval said.